The Wall Street Journal reports:
The grain elevator towering over the eastern edge of Kupyansk, the former seat of Russian power in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, was supposed to be defended by soldiers from an elite Russian unit.
But when troops from Ukraine’s International Legion moved to seize the compound on Thursday, part of the developing Ukrainian military offensive east of the Oskil River, the expected firefight never happened.
“They just ran away. They know they are finished here,” said the team leader, a Latvian soldier who goes by the call-sign Ulvis, as his comrades from the U.S., Britain and other nations gathered with Ukrainian officers in a warehouse in eastern Kupyansk to plan their next mission.
Ukrainian forces, including the all-volunteer International Legion created shortly after Russia invaded on Feb. 24, seized most of the Russian-occupied parts of the Kharkiv region, including the western half of Kupyansk, in a lightning offensive two weeks ago. This defeat prompted Moscow to start mobilizing hundreds of thousands of reservists as it attempts to shore up the crumbling front-lines.
Russia tried to halt the Ukrainian offensive by blowing up the only bridge over the Oskil that links the two sides of Kupyansk. That didn’t work. In recent days, Ukrainian forces have steadily expanded their foothold on the eastern side of Oskil, using pontoon crossings to fill the area with tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.
“We keep moving ahead, destroying Russian armed-forces formations. In a few more days, we should control the entire Kupyansk district,” said Andriy Kanashevych, acting head of the district’s military administration.
Securing the remaining Russian-held urban areas on the eastern side of Kupyansk would clear the way for Ukrainian forces to push into the nearby Luhansk region, one of the four that Russia seeks to annex through snap referendums currently under way.
Luhansk is the only one of these four regions that is almost entirely controlled by Moscow. Successful Ukrainian advances there in the coming weeks would be a major morale boost for Ukraine—and another embarrassing setback for the Kremlin, which trumpeted the seizure of the entirety of Luhansk in early July as a strategic victory. [Continue reading…]