Ukraine marches farther into liberated lands, separatist calls for urgent referendum

Damaged cars are seen in the town of Kupiansk, recently liberated by Ukrainian forces amid the Russian attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released September 19, 2022. Press Service of the President of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

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  • Ukraine says its forces are advancing on Oskil’s east bank
  • Governor says troops enter towns near Lysychansk
  • Separatist leader calls for urgent referendum on joining Russia

IZIUM, Ukraine, September 20 (Reuters) – Ukraine said its troops had moved further east into territory recently abandoned by Russia, paving the way for a possible attack on Moscow’s occupying forces in the Donbass region, while Kyiv strive for more Western weapons.

In a sign of nervousness by a Moscow-backed government in Donbass over the success of Ukraine’s recent offensive, its leader has called for urgent referendums on the region’s belonging to Russia.

“The occupiers are clearly in a panic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a televised address late Monday, adding that his focus now is on “speed” in the liberated areas.

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“The speed at which our troops are moving. The speed of restoring normal life,” said Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian leader also indicated that he would use a video address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to urge countries to speed up arms and aid supplies.

“We are doing everything to ensure that Ukraine’s needs are met at all levels – defense, financial, economic, diplomatic,” Zelenskyy said.

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Serhiy Gaidai, Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, a Donbass province now under the control of Russian forces, said Ukrainian forces had regained full control of the village of Bilohorivka in Luhansk and were preparing to fight to retake the entire province .

“Every centimeter is fought over,” Gaidai wrote on Telegram. “The enemy is preparing their defenses. So we’re not just going to invade.”

In another key milestone for the counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Ukrainian forces said troops crossed the Oskil River over the weekend. The river empties south into the Siversky Donets, which meanders through the Donbass, the main focus of the Russian invasion.

A little further behind is Luhansk, a base for Russia’s separatist proxies since 2014 and in full Russian hands since July after some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Reuters could not independently verify either side’s battlefield reports.

Denis Pushilin, head of the Moscow-based separatist administration in Donetsk, urged his fellow separatist leaders in Luhansk to pool efforts to prepare a referendum on joining Russia. Continue reading

“Our actions should be synchronized,” Pushilin said in a video posted to social media on Monday.


Ukraine is still assessing what happened in areas that were under Russian control for months before a flight of Russian troops earlier this month dramatically changed the dynamics of the war.

At a huge makeshift cemetery in forests near the recaptured town of Izium, Ukrainian forensic scientists have so far unearthed 146 bodies buried without coffins, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Monday. Around 450 graves were found at the site, Zelenskiy said. Read more

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Workers fanned out in groups from under the trees and used shovels to exhume the partially decomposed corpses, some of which locals said had lain in the city streets long after their deaths before being buried.

The government has not yet said how most of the people died, although officials say dozens were killed when a home was shelled and there are indications others were killed by shrapnel.

According to preliminary investigations, four showed signs of torture, with hands tied behind the back or in one case with a rope around the neck, Serhiy Bolvinov, the head of the investigative police in the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the burial ground.

Bolvinov said the vast majority of the bodies appear to be civilians. Locals have identified their dead by matching names to numbers on thin wooden crosses marking the graves. Continue reading

“Soldiers’ hands were tied, there were signs of torture on civilians,” Bolvinov said. Ukraine says 17 soldiers were at the scene in a mass grave. Continue reading

Reuters could not confirm Ukraine’s torture allegations.

The Kremlin on Monday denied that Russia was responsible for atrocities that Ukraine said it had uncovered in the retaken territory.

“It’s a lie and of course we will defend the truth in this story,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, comparing the allegations to incidents earlier in the war where Russia claimed without evidence that atrocities were staged by Ukrainians.

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Ukraine on Monday accused Russian forces of shelling near the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant in the southern Mykolaiv region.

An explosion occurred just after midnight Monday 300 meters (yards) from the reactors, damaging power plant buildings, Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator Energoatom said in a statement.

The reactors were not damaged and no personnel injured, it said, releasing photos showing a huge crater said to have been caused by the blast.

“Russia endangers the whole world. We have to stop it before it’s too late,” Zelenskyy said in a social media post.

The strikes will add to global concerns about the potential for a nuclear catastrophe, already heightened by fighting over another Ukrainian nuclear power plant in the south, Zaporizhia, which was captured by Russian forces in March. Moscow has ignored international calls for withdrawal and demilitarization.

In a fresh throwback in Zaporizhzhia, the IAEA said a power line used to power the power plant was disconnected on Sunday, leaving it off the grid without an emergency power supply.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Frank Jack Daniel and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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