Ukraine reclaims more territory, reports capturing many Russian soldiers
Ukraine says Russia has stopped sending new units into the conflict zone
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.
A spokesperson for Ukrainian military intelligence said Russian troops were surrendering en masse as "they understand the hopelessness of their situation." A Ukrainian presidential adviser said there were so many prisoners of war that the country was running out of space to accommodate them.
As blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags fluttered over newly liberated towns, the Ukrainian military said it had freed more than 20 settlements in 24 hours. In recent days, Kyiv's forces have captured territory at least twice the size of greater London, according to the British Defence Ministry.
Ukraine's general staff claimed on Facebook that Russia has also stopped sending new units into the conflict zone.
Momentum lifts morale
After months of little discernible movement on the battlefield, the momentum has lifted Ukrainian morale and provoked rare public criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war.
"In some areas of the front, our defenders reached the state border with the Russian Federation," said Oleh Syniehubov, governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region. Over the weekend, the Russian Defence Ministry said troops would be pulled from two areas in that region to regroup in the eastern region of Donetsk.
It was not yet clear whether the Ukrainian blitz could signal a turning point in the war. Momentum has switched back and forth before, but rarely with such a big and sudden swing.
'Significant' numbers of Russians captured: Ukraine
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich did not specify the number of Russian prisoners but said the POWs would be exchanged for Ukrainian service members held by Moscow. Military intelligence spokesperson Andrey Yusov said the captured troops included "significant" numbers of Russian officers.
Ukraine's deputy interior minister accused fleeing Russian forces of burning official documents and concealing bodies in an attempt to cover up rights violations in the areas they controlled until last week.
The mood was jubilant across the country.
In Kharkiv, authorities hailed that power and water had been restored to about 80 per cent of the region's population following Russian attacks on infrastructure that knocked out electricity in many places across Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retaken 6,000 square kilometres (2,400 square miles) of Russian-held territory since the beginning of the month.
"Since the beginning of September and up to today, our fighters have liberated more than 6,000 square kilometres of the territory of Ukraine in the south and in the east," he said in his nightly video.
"The advances of our forces continue."
In the south, Ukrainian troops repelled attempted Russian advances in two important areas of the Donetsk region — the city of Bakhmut and Maiorsk, near the coal-producing town of Horlivka, the general staff said in an evening update.
Vitaly Ganchev, the Russian-installed head of Moscow's occupation administration in what remained of Russian-held territory in the Kharkiv region, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces had broken through to the frontier.
Russia says 'military operation' will continue
Meanwhile, in Russia, there were some signs of disarray as Russian military bloggers and patriotic commentators chastised the Kremlin for failing to mobilize more forces and take stronger action against Ukraine.
Russia has continuously stopped short of calling its invasion a war, instead describing it as a "special military operation" and relying on a limited contingent of volunteers instead of a mass mobilization that could spur civil discontent and protest.
The Kremlin on Monday said Russia would achieve all of its aims in the military operation in Ukraine, its first public response to dramatic Ukrainian gains on the battlefield in the Kharkiv region.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to answer directly, when asked by a reporter if President Vladimir Putin had confidence in his military leadership, replying that the "special operation" would continue until it had achieved its goals.
"The military operation continues," Peskov said. "And it will continue until the goals that were originally set are achieved."
Putin was later shown on state TV chairing a meeting on the economy at which he said Russia was holding up well in the face of Western sanctions.
"The economic blitzkrieg tactics, the onslaught they were counting on, did not work," he said.
Criticism of Russian 'mistakes' mounting
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed leader of the Russian region of Chechnya, publicly criticized the Russian Defence Ministry for what he called "mistakes" that made the Ukrainian blitz possible.
Even more notable, such criticism seeped onto state-controlled Russian TV.
"People who convinced President Putin that the operation will be fast and effective … these people really set up all of us," Boris Nadezhdin, a former parliament member, said on a talk show on NTV television. "We're now at the point where we have to understand that it's absolutely impossible to defeat Ukraine using these resources and colonial war methods."
Even amid Ukraine's ebullience, the casualties kept mounting.
Ukraine's presidential office said Monday that at least four civilians were killed and 11 others wounded in a series of Russian attacks in nine regions of the country. The UN Human Rights Office said last week that 5,767 civilians have been killed so far.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Monday that Kyiv "will likely increasingly dictate the location and nature of the major fighting."
The British Defence Ministry said the retreat would likely further deteriorate the trust Russian forces have in their commanders and put Moscow's troops on the back foot.
With files from Reuters and CBC News