Ukrainian troops have broken through the Russian front line south of the country’s second largest city

Kyiv, Ukraine — Western defense officials and analysts said Saturday they believe Ukraine has breached Russian frontlines south of the country’s second-biggest city, seizing thousands of square miles of territory and threatening to cut off Russian supply lines.

The UK MoD said in an online briefing it believes the Ukrainians advanced as much as 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine.

The advance appears to be centered around Izyum, long a focus on the Russian front line and the site of heavy artillery and other fighting. The British described Russian forces around Izyum as “increasingly isolated”.

“The Russian forces were probably taken by surprise. The sector was only lightly held and Ukrainian units captured or surrounded several towns,” the British military said.

It added that the nearby town of Kupiansk also appeared to be under pressure from Ukrainian forces and that its loss would severely disrupt Russian supply lines in the area.

An image circulated on social media on Saturday appeared to show Ukrainian soldiers in front of a main government building in Kupiansk, some 73 kilometers (45 miles) north of Izyum.

The picture showed soldiers waving the flag of Ukraine’s 92nd Separate Mechanized Battalion in front of a building resembling the Kupyansk City Council building, which sits right on the Oskil River.

The Ukrainian military has not yet confirmed the invasion of the city, although a few days ago there were obvious Ukrainian gains south of Kharkiv.

A Washington-based think tank also pointed to Ukraine’s sweeping gains on Saturday, estimating that Kyiv has captured some 2,500 square kilometers (965 sq mi) in its northeastern breakthrough.

The Institute for the Study of War said in a report that “disorganized Russian forces appeared to have caught up with the rapid Ukrainian advance.” They cited social media images of apparent Russian prisoners captured in the advance around Izyum and surrounding towns.

The same report states that Ukrainian forces north and south of the city “could collapse Russian positions around Izyum if they cut Russian ground communications lines.”

Fighting in the east is taking place amid an ongoing offensive around Kherson in southern Ukraine. Analysts suspect that Russia may have brought troops from the east into reinforcements around Kherson, giving Ukrainians an opportunity to attack a weakened front line.

The Ukrainian military has been more cautious about reported gains, claiming in its regular update on Saturday it has taken “more than 1,000 square kilometers” (386 square miles) from pro-Kremlin forces since launching its long-awaited counter-offensive this week.

It said that “in some areas Defense Forces units penetrated enemy defenses to a depth of 50 kilometers”, which agrees with the British assessment but gave no geographical details.

Officials in Kyiv have been silent for weeks about their plans for a counter-offensive to retake territory overrun by Russia at the start of the war, urging local residents not to share information on social media for fear of jeopardizing ongoing operations.

Moscow did not immediately acknowledge or comment on the claims made by Ukraine and its Western allies.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian emergency services reported that a civilian was killed in a Russian missile attack in the Kharkiv region overnight.

The regional branch of the state emergency services said the body of a 62-year-old woman was found in the rubble of her home, which was leveled by the strike.

Regional governor Oleh Syniehubov also accused Moscow of demolishing settlements that Kyiv had recaptured in its recent forays, along with other residential areas in the region.

Syniehubov said in a Telegram post that five civilians were hospitalized in Izyum district, while nine others were injured elsewhere in the region.

In the contested Donbass region south of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian governor said civilians were killed and wounded overnight by Russian shelling near the town of Bakhmut, a key target of the stalled Russian offensive there. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram that two people died and two others were injured in Bakhmut and the neighboring village of Yahidne.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Kyiv for an unannounced visit and said Europe never tires of helping Ukraine despite efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to increase pressure by withholding energy supplies.

Baerbock said Germany will help Ukraine find and clear mines and other duds left by Russian troops in areas where they have been pushed back by Ukrainian forces.

___ Kozlowska reported from London. Associated Press Author Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Ukrainian troops have broken through the Russian front line south of the country’s second largest city

Laura Coffey

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