Ukrainian officials announced efforts to urgently stabilize the recently recaptured eastern territory and stressed the need for quick gains to deny Russia “any footing on Ukrainian soil” with the Russian invasion approaching seven months.
Rapid gains in recent weeks as Russian forces abandon occupied areas, particularly in the region east of Kharkiv, have left Ukrainian troops approaching parts of the Donbass region long held by backed separatists by the Kremlin as Kyiv seeks more Western weapons to defend itself.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his September 19 nightly video address that Kyiv forces in the Kharkiv region were “stabilizing the situation [and] holding our positions… so firmly that the occupants are clearly panicking.”
“We are now convinced that the occupiers will have no foothold on Ukrainian soil,” he said.
“The pace is very important now,” Zelenskiy said amid rapidly falling temperatures in the region and concerns about the basic needs of residents who remained. “The pace of stabilization in the liberated areas. The pace of movement of our troops. The pace of restoring normal life in the liberated territory.”
Zelenskiy said last week that around 150,000 Ukrainians had lived under Russian occupation in the Kharkiv region over the past five months.
Late on September 19, the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for reintegrating the reconquered areas, Iryna Vereshchuk, said that the authorities had launched a pilot program of small cash transfers to help residents around Kharkiv.
She said each person would receive the equivalent of $33 and thanked the International Red Cross for its financial support of the project.
Zelenskiy said investigators found new evidence of torture among the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers buried near Izyum, a key town in the Kharkiv region.
The head of the regional military administration around Izyum, Oleh Synyehubov, said on September 19 that most of the 146 bodies exhumed from a mass grave were civilians and “some of the dead show signs of violent death. There are bodies with their hands tied and traces of torture”.
WATCH: Ukraine’s security services say ‘people were tortured’ by Russian troops at a local police station in the recently liberated town of Kupyansk.
The Kremlin has dismissed claims that Russian forces committed war crimes there as a “lie”.
Zelenskiy said on September 19 that the local administrative center in Kupyansk had been recaptured from Russian forces.
In another sign of Ukrainian confidence amid the eastern offensive, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said Ukrainian forces had regained control of the village of Bilohorivka and were preparing to retake the entire province.
Bilohorivka is only about 10 kilometers from the town of Lysychansk, which Russian forces captured in July after weeks of heavy fighting.
The Ukrainian General Staff on September 20 warned Ukrainians threatened Russian air and missile attacks across the country and said Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian operations in Mayorsk, Vesele, Kurdyumivka and Novomykhaylivka.
RFE/RL cannot substantiate battlefield claims in areas of intense combat.
British Defense Intelligence, meanwhile, assessed on September 20 that Ukraine’s “long-range strike capability” against the headquarters and airfield of the Russian Black Sea Fleet had forced the relocation of Russian submarines, “undermining” one of Moscow’s main objectives in its eight-year occupation of Crimea.
In London, Prime Minister Liz Truss said the UK would meet or exceed the 2.3 billion pounds ($2.63 billion) in military aid spent on Ukraine in 2022 next year, a announced his office on September 20.
British military support to Ukraine will likely include equipment such as multiple rocket launcher systems, his office said in a statement.
“Ukraine’s victories in recent weeks have been inspirational,” the statement said, after Kyiv forces drove the Russians from almost the entire Kharkiv region in a lightning counteroffensive.
“My message to the people of Ukraine is this: the UK will continue to be with you every step of the way. Your security is our security.”