Kyiv, Ukraine CNN —
Russian forces withdrew from Lyman, a strategic city for their operations in the east, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday, just a day after Moscow annexed the region, which the West had declared illegal.
“In connection with the creation of a threatened encirclement, Allied troops were withdrawn from the settlement of Krasny Liman to more advantageous lines,” the ministry said on Telegram, using the Russian name for the city of Lyman.
Russian state media Russia-24 reported that the reason for Russia’s withdrawal was that “the enemy used both Western-made artillery and intelligence from North Atlantic Alliance countries.”
The withdrawal marks Ukraine’s most significant gain since its successful counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region last month.
Russia’s announcement comes just hours after Ukrainian forces said they had encircled Russian troops in the town, located in Donetsk’s Kramatorsk district.
Earlier on Saturday, Ukrainian forces said they had entered Stavky, a village near Lyman, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, the military spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“The Russian group in the Lyman area is surrounded. The settlements of Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandryholove, Drobysheve and Stavky are liberated. Stabilization measures are underway there,” Cherevatyi said in a television press conference on Saturday morning.
“[The liberation] by Lyman is important because it is another step towards the liberation of Ukraine’s Donbass. This is an opportunity to go further to Kreminna and Severodonetsk. So again, psychologically, it’s very important,” he said.
Cherevatyi said the actions of Ukrainian troops set the tone to “break the course of these hostilities.”
He added that there were “many dead and wounded” but could not give any further details.
The head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Hayday, revealed more details of the Lyman offensive on Saturday, suggesting that Russian forces had offered a withdrawal but to no avail from the Ukrainian side.
“The occupiers asked [their command] asked for the opportunity to withdraw, and they were denied. Accordingly, you have two options. No, you actually have three options. Try to break through, surrender, or everyone there will die,” Hayday said.
“There are several thousand of them. Yes, about 5,000. There is no exact number yet. Five thousand is still a colossal grouping. Never before has there been such a large group in the encirclement. All routes for ammunition supply or group retreat are completely blocked,” he added.
Yurii Mysiagin, Member of Parliament of Ukraine and deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, referenced the move to Stavky on Saturday by posting a video on Telegram showing a Ukrainian tank driving down the road with a clear sign saying that points to the Stavky region. CNN could not independently verify the original source or date.
A video posted to social media and shared by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff shows two Ukrainian soldiers standing on a military vehicle and taped the flag to a large sign that reads “Lyman.”
“We unfurl our country’s flag and hoist it on our country. only man. Everything will be Ukraine,” one of the soldiers says to the camera.
Meanwhile, pressure seems to be mounting on Russian President Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic, in an angry statement denouncing Russian generals after the withdrawal from Lyman, said it was time for the Kremlin to use all the weapons at its disposal.
“In my personal opinion, we need to take more drastic measures, including imposing martial law in the border areas and using low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov said on his Telegram channel. “There is no need to make every decision with the Western American community in mind.”
Earlier this week, Dmitry Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president between 2008 and 2012, discussed the use of nuclear weapons on his Telegram channel, saying it was permissible when the very existence of the Russian state was threatened by an attack even by conventional forces.
“If the threat to Russia exceeds our established threat level, we must respond…it is certainly not a bluff,” he wrote.
Fears that Moscow could resort to the use of nuclear weapons have risen sharply after Putin announced on Friday that Russia would seize nearly a fifth of Ukraine, declaring that the millions of people who live there “forever.” “ would be Russian citizens.
The announcement was dismissed as illegal by the United States and many other countries, but there are fears the Kremlin could argue that attacks on those areas now constitute attacks on Russia.
In his speech at the Kremlin, the Russian leader made only passing reference to nuclear weapons, noting that the United States was the only country to have used them on the battlefield.
“They set a precedent by the way,” he added.
Also on Saturday, the general director of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant was arrested by a Russian patrol, according to the president of the state-owned nuclear company Energoatom.
Director General Ihor Murashov was in his vehicle on his way from the plant when he was “stopped…taken out of the car and driven blindfolded in an unknown direction. There is currently no information on his fate,” Energoatom’s Petro Kotin said in a statement.
“Murashov is a licensed person and has primary and exclusive responsibility for the nuclear and radiation safety of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” Kotin said, adding that his detention “endangers the operational safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.”
Kotin called for Murashov’s release and urged the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to “take all possible emergency measures to free him as a matter of urgency”.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” Murashov’s “illegal detention”, calling it “another manifestation of state terrorism on the part of Russia and a gross violation of international law”.
“We call on the international community, in particular the United Nations, the IAEA and the G7, to take decisive action in this regard as well,” the ministry said in a statement.
Russia hit Zaporizhia overnight with four S300 missiles, according to regional administration chief Oleksandr Starukh.
And in Kharkiv, the regional prosecutor’s office said on Saturday that the bodies of 22 civilians, including 10 children, were found after Russian shelling of a car convoy near the eastern city of Kupiansk.
The cars were fired upon by the Russian army on September 25 “as civilians tried to evacuate,” a Telegram post said, adding that an investigation was ongoing.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the police on Friday “discovered a convoy of seven cars that had been shot near the village of Kurylivka in the Kupyansk district,” the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said.
The SBU confirmed on Telegram that they were investigating a “war crime” that left at least 20 people dead in “a brutal attack.”
CNN has not been able to independently verify the allegations. There was no official Russian response to the claims made.