Ukraine marches further into liberated lands, separatists call for snap referendum

  • Ukraine says its forces have captured a village near Lysizansk
  • The separatist leader should work with Russia to hold a referendum
  • “The occupiers are clearly panicking,” Zelensky

IZIUM, Ukraine, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Ukraine said its troops had marched east into territory recently abandoned by Russia, paving the way for a possible attack on Moscow’s occupation forces in the Donbass region as Kiev seeks more Western weapons.

“The occupiers are panicking,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised address late Monday, adding that he would focus “on speed” in the now-liberated areas.

“The speed at which our troops are moving. The speed at which normal life is restored,” Zelenskiy said.

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

“We are doing everything to ensure that Ukraine’s needs are met at all levels: security, financial, economic, diplomatic,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine’s armed forces have regained full control of the village of Bilohoryvka and are preparing to retake all of Luhansk province from Russian occupiers, provincial governor Serhii Keidai said. The village is 10 km (6 mi) west of the town of Lysizansk, which fell to the Russians in July after weeks of fighting.

“There will be a fight for every centimeter,” Gaidai wrote in a telegram. “The enemy prepares their defenses. So we don’t simply march in.”

Luhansk and the neighboring province of Donetsk comprise the industrialized eastern region of Donbass, which Moscow says it wants to seize as the primary objective of what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have begun entering Luhansk since driving Russian forces out of northeastern Kharkiv province in a lightning counteroffensive this month.

In a sign of the Moscow-backed administration’s nervousness in the Donbass over the success of Ukraine’s latest offensive, its leader called for an emergency referendum in the region, which is part of Russia.

Denis Bushilin, head of the Moscow-based separatist administration in Donetsk, called on his fellow separatist leader in Luhansk to join efforts to prepare for a referendum on joining Russia. read more

Ukrainian civil servants said on Monday that the fighting was confined to the Donetsk region.

“Over the past 24 hours, units of the Defense Forces of Ukraine repelled enemy attacks in the residential areas of Mayersk, Vesele, Kurdyumivka and Novomykhailivka,” it said in a daily update.

In the south, another Ukrainian counteroffensive is slowly progressing, with Ukraine’s armed forces claiming to have sunk a boat carrying Russian troops and equipment across a river near Nova Khakovka in the Kherson region.

“Efforts to build a crossing were halted by the fire of Ukrainian forces. The boat … became an addition to the submarine force of the invaders,” the military said in a statement on Facebook.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports from either side.

Grimm Tombs

Ukraine is still assessing what happened in areas that had been under Russian control for months before Russian troops dramatically changed the course of the war earlier this month.

In a large makeshift cemetery in the woods near the recaptured city of Izium, Ukrainian forensic experts have so far unearthed 146 bodies buried without coffins, Kharkiv regional governor Oleh Sinehupov said on Monday. About 450 graves have been found at the site, Zelensky said Read More

Leaving in groups under the trees, workers used shovels to dig up the partially decomposed bodies, some of which lay on city streets long after they died before being buried, locals said.

The government has not yet said how most people died, and there are indications that others were killed by shrapnel, although officials said dozens were killed in the shelling of an apartment building.

According to preliminary investigations, four people showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behind their backs, or in one case a rope tied around their necks, Serhiy Bolvinov, head of the Kharkiv region’s investigative police, told Reuters at the burial site.

Bolvinov said most of the bodies were civilians. Locals identify the dead by matching names to numbers on the slender wooden crosses that mark the graves. read more

“Soldiers’ hands were tied, there were signs of torture on civilians,” Polvinov said. Ukraine says 17 soldiers were in a mass grave at the site. read more

Reuters could not confirm Ukraine’s allegations of torture.

The Kremlin on Monday denied Russia was responsible for the atrocities it says Ukraine has unleashed on recaptured territory.

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

Alarm over nuclear power plant

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

The explosion occurred 300 meters from the reactors shortly after midnight on Monday and damaged power plant buildings, Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energotom said in a statement.

The reactors were not damaged and no employees were injured, it released photos showing a large crater left by the explosion.

“Russia is endangering the whole world. We must stop it before it’s too late,” Zelenskiy said in a social media post.

The strikes will heighten global concerns about the potential for a nuclear disaster, fueled by already-fought fighting around Zaporizhia, another nuclear power plant in the south, seized by Russian forces in March.

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Report by Reuters Bureaus; By Rami Ayyub and Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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