A conservative estimate of the land Ukraine’s military had recaptured from Russian forces in the northeast region surrounding Kharkiv was 2,500 square kilometers as of 48 hours ago. In a Facebook post on Monday, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister claimed that the stretch was closer to 6,000 square kilometers.
The abrupt change is not the result of intense fighting, but rather of its absence. According to military sources in Kyiv, the Russians simply fled, allowing the Ukrainians to roll in at their leisure.
The withdrawal is merely a regrouping operation, according to an order issued by Moscow to Russian forces in and around Kharkiv.
This phrase is widely interpreted as a euphemism for a defeat that has become increasingly difficult to conceal as details of Russia’s recent moves have been meticulously documented in the international press and on social media, including among hardline Russian nationalists and military analysts.
In reality, it appears that this withdrawal was not “operational.” According to Ukrainian eyewitnesses, Russian soldiers fled on bicycles and in cars stolen at gunpoint from Ukrainian villagers. They took off their uniforms and dressed in civilian clothes to avoid Ukrainian reconnaissance drones, no doubt due to heavy losses from Ukrainian firepower. There were also reports of trapped Russian soldiers radioing their commanding officers pleading for help, which never arrived.
Both Ukrainian and Russian sources agree that the remnants of the Russian army in Kharkiv oblast have now been pushed back across the border into Russia. At least one pro-Russian Telegram channel claimed the Ukrainians crossed the border, sending a raiding party in armored vehicles into Belgorod, the oblast directly north of Kharkiv, before shooting up a settlement and stealing “several pieces of equipment,” including mortars and automatic grenade launchers.
The sheer volume of Russian hardware left behind also demonstrates Moscow’s lack of planning. Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs adviser, joked about “Russian lend lease” of military equipment. One verified video posted on September 11 shows two Russian tanks seemingly abandoned in Izyum, a central logistical hub for the invaders. The T-80BVM, one of Russia’s most recent tank models, entered service in 2017. On September 9, a photograph of it circulated on Russian social media; however, two days later, as one online weapons tracker pointed out, the tank was in the exact same location, implying it had not been operated at all prior to the Ukrainian blitzkrieg.
Russia’s propaganda matrix is already showing cracks. Commentators on state television are reluctantly accepting a less optimistic view of how the war is progressing.
“We’re now at the point where we have to recognize that defeating Ukraine with [current] resources and colonial war methods is impossible,” former State Duma Deputy Boris Nadezhdin admitted yesterday on NTV.
When asked if he meant mass mobilization in Russia to bolster ground forces in Ukraine, something Vladimir Putin has been hesitant to implement, Nadezhdin responded that what he wanted was “peace talks” to end the war.