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Ukraine said on Saturday that Russia was withdrawing troops from the eastern city of Kharkiv amid what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called a “gradual liberation” of the region.
The general staff of Ukraine's armed forces said Russia was no longer engaging in “active hostilities” towards Kharkiv, a city that had been encircled by Moscow’s troops in the early weeks of the war.
Instead, Russia’s current efforts were "focused on ensuring the withdrawal of its troops from the city of Kharkiv, maintaining the occupied positions and supply routes,” the Ukrainian side said.
Mayor Ihor Terekhov said the situation was calm and that Kharkiv had not been shelled by the Russians in the past five days, the BBC reported. He said one rocket aimed at the city’s airport had been intercepted.
“The Russians have withdrawn out far from the city area in the direction of the Russian border,” said Mr Terekhov, who said people were gradually returning to the city but that many of its houses had been destroyed.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had carried out operations in the wider Kharkiv region including shooting down a Bayraktar-TB2 combat drone and intercepting Ukrainian rockets.
Ukraine said Russia had fired artillery, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at other targets in the south and east, in a continued attempt to control the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and create a land corridor with Crimea.
A US defence official said Ukrainian troops were making progress in reclaiming towns and villages around Kharkiv and driving Russian troops to the north of the city, which is near the Russian border.
“We have seen some progress by them pushing Russian forces closer to the border and away from Kharkiv,” the official said in a briefing on Friday.
Mr Zelenskyy said in a nightly address that Ukraine would not give up on occupied territories and that the “gradual liberation of the Kharkiv region proves that we will not leave anyone to the enemy”.
He said more than 1,000 settlements in Ukraine had been “de-occupied”, including six in the past 24 hours.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank monitoring the conflict, went further by saying Ukraine “appears to have won the battle of Kharkiv” and that Russia had largely not attempted to resist the Ukrainian counter-attack.
It said Russia appeared to have decided to abandon its positions completely in the face of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and what it called the limited availability of reinforcements.