A Ukrainian soldier stands near a civilian car with the letter Z, often painted on Russian military vehicles in Ukraine, which was captured and used by Russian soldiers when they controlled that territory, which was retaken by Ukrainian troops in the village of Grakovo in Kharkiv's surroundings. Photo by Vasiliy Zhlobsky/EPA-EFE

A Ukrainian soldier stands near a civilian car with the letter Z, often painted on Russian military vehicles in Ukraine, which was captured and used by Russian soldiers when they controlled that territory, which was retaken by Ukrainian troops in the village of Grakovo in Kharkiv’s surroundings. Photo by Vasiliy Zhlobsky/EPA-EFE

Sept. 11 (UPI) — Ukrainian troops recaptured Chkalovske, a town between the cities of Kharkiv and Izium, from Russian forces as they continued their rally for territorial gains, having reclaimed about half a million acres of land, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.

“Another freed settlement!” Zelensky said on Telegram with a video of a soldier raising the country’s banner above the village.

“The Ukrainian flag returned to Chkalovske, Kharkiv region. And it will be like that everywhere. We will expel the occupiers from every Ukrainian city and village. Thanks to all our heroes!”

The Russian Defense Ministry has released a new map of parts of Ukraine that it claims to still control which shows that Russian troops have retreated to the eastern side of the Oskol River indicating that they have withdrawn from nearly all of Kharkiv.

Moscow announced the withdrawal of troops from the Balakliya-Izium line on Saturday while claiming the withdrawal was made in an effort to regroup its forces to support efforts in the Donetsk province of Ukraine.

The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., noted in an analysis Sunday that Kremlin’s line mirrored its “false explanation for the Russian withdrawal after the Battle of Kyiv.”

“The Russian Defense Ministry did not acknowledge Ukrainian successes around Kharkiv Oblast as the primary factor for the Russian retreat and claimed that Russian military command has been carrying out a controlled withdrawal from the Balakliya-Izium area for the past three days,” the analysis reads.

According to the think tank, the Russian Defense Ministry “falsely claimed” that Russian forces used artillery and aviation to take measures to ensure the safety of withdrawing Russian forces.

Russia’s retreat comes as Moscow has suffered staggering losses and fierce resistant from Ukrainians defending their homeland from the invasion, which began on Feb. 24.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry claimed Sunday that it has killed 52,650 Russian soldiers and destroyed 2,154 tanks, 1,263 artillery systems, 242 aircraft and 213 helicopters since the start of the war.

“Over the last 24 hours, Ukrainian forces have continued to make significant gains in the Kharkiv region. Russia has likely withdrawn units from the area, but fighting continues around the strategically important cities of Kupiansk and Izium,” the British Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya who is firmly loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, became the first high-ranking official to criticize Russian forces since Ukraine’s latest offensive to reclaim territory in a voice message to his millions of followers on Telegram.

In his message, Kadyrov said the Russian Defense Ministry has “made mistake” and has not sufficiently explained the movement of troops in northeastern Ukraine to the Russian public, according to a translation by The New York Times.

“If today or tomorrow no changes are made in the strategy of the special military operation, I would need to speak to the Defense Ministry’s leadership and to the country’s leadership to explain to them the real situation on the ground,” Kadyrov said.

The Institute for the Study of War noted that the Russian Defense Ministry’s “inability to admit Russian failures” in the Kharkiv province and “effectively set information conditions” is collapsing support for Moscow in Russian media.

“Kremlin-sponsored TV propagandists offered a wide range of confused explanations for Ukrainian successes ranging from justifications that Russian forces are fighting against the entire Western bloc, to downplaying the importance of Russian ground lines of communication in Kupyansk,” according to the think tank.

“The Kremlin’s propagandists appeared unusually disorganized in their narratives, with some confirming the liberation of certain towns and others refuting such reports. Guest experts also were unable to reaffirm the hosts’ narratives that Ukrainian successes are not significant for the Donbas axis.”

Russian milbloggers have also criticized the Kremlin for remaining quiet about the recent retreat, with one even saying that the silence is a betrayal to Russian troops fighting on the ground.

The liberation of Izium marks the most significant Ukrainian military achievement since winning the Battle of Kyiv in March.

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