Ukraine conflict: Prestigious Moscow force “severely degraded” as Ukraine liberates 6,000 sq km of land as Russia retreats

Ukrainian troops have continued to pile pressure on retreating Russian forces, seeking to hold on to their sudden momentum that has produced major territorial gains.

Fresh yellow-and-blue flags fluttered from the tallest buildings left in partly destroyed towns around Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, while Ukrainian soldiers inspected charred Russian tanks left along the way.

“From the beginning of September until today, our soldiers have already liberated more than 6,000 square kilometres of the territory of Ukraine — in the east and south. The movement of our troops continues,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in his nightly address late on Monday.

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British intelligence said that one of Moscow’s premier forces, the 1st Guards Tank Army, has been “severely degraded” during the invasion and that “Russia’s conventional force designed to counter Nato is severely weakened”.

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The UK’s Ministry of Defence confirmed in their latest intelligence report: “Elements of the Russian forces withdrawn from Kharkiv Oblast over the last week were from the 1st Guards Tank Army (1 GTA), which are subordinate to the Western Military District (WEMD).

"GTA suffered heavy casualties in the initial phase of the invasion and had not been fully reconstituted prior to the Ukrainian counter-offensive in Kharkiv.

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"1 GTA had been one of the most prestigious of Russia’s armies, allocated for the defence of Moscow, and intended to lead counter-attacks in the case of a war with NATO.

They added: “It will likely take years for Russia to rebuild this capability.”

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Ukrainian troops retook a wide swath of territory from Russia on Monday, pushing all the way back to the northeastern border in some places, and claimed to have captured many Russian soldiers as part of a lightning advance that forced Moscow to make a hasty retreat. (AP Photo/Kostiantyn Liberov)
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Ukraine conflict: Ukraine make significant gains in major counter-offensive as f...
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The retreat did not stop Russia from pounding Ukrainian positions, however. Early on Tuesday, it shelled the city of Lozova in the Kharkiv region, killing three people and injuring nine, said regional governor Oleh Syniehubov.

The Nikopol area, which is across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, was shelled six times during the night but no injuries were immediately reported, said regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko.

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Continued shelling has left Europe’s largest nuclear facility in a precarious position.

A Ukrainian soldier stands on a tank on the road in the freed territory of the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, AP Photo/Kostiantyn Liberov
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Mr Zelensky specifically criticised Russia for targeting energy infrastructure in its attacks over the past days.

“Hundreds and thousands of Ukrainians found themselves in the dark — without electricity. Houses, hospitals, schools, communal infrastructure… sites that have absolutely nothing to do with the infrastructure of the armed forces of our country.

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“This is a sign of the desperation of those who contrived this war. This is how they react to the defeat of Russian forces in the Kharkiv region. They can’t do anything to our heroes on the battlefield,” he said.

Ukrainian military intelligence said Russian troops were surrendering en masse. A Ukrainian presidential adviser said there were so many prisoners of war that the country was running out of space to accommodate them.

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The counter-offensive left the Kremlin struggling for a response to its largest military defeat in Ukraine since Russian forces pulled back from areas near Kyiv after a botched attempt to capture the capital early in the invasion.

The Russian Defence Ministry acknowledged the setback in a map that showed its troops pressed back along a narrow patch of land on the border with Russia — a tacit admission of big Ukrainian gains.

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Elsewhere, residents of a Russian village just across the border from Ukraine were evacuated after shelling by Ukrainian troops killed one person, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.