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Ukraine takes back territory in notable push toward Russian border

The Ukrainian government said its military has liberated 20 settlements Russia had occupied.

Ukrainian government service members pose for a picture with a Ukrainian national flag in the village of Vasylenkove, recently liberated from Russian forces In a photo released Saturday by the Ukrainian government. The government says 20 settlements in Ukraine were liberated from Russian occupation in 24 hours. (Territorial Defence Of The Ukrai/Via Reuters)

Ukrainian troops reclaimed a wide area of territory from Russia on Monday, pushing back to the northeastern border in some places as part of a quick advance that forced Moscow to make a hasty retreat from occupied land.

As blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags fluttered over newly liberated towns, the Ukrainian military said its troops had freed more than 20 settlements in 24 hours.

“The Russians were here in the morning. Then at noon, they suddenly started shouting wildly and began to run away, charging off in tanks and armored vehicles,” Dmytro Hrushchenko told Sky News. Hrushchenko is a resident of recently liberated Zaliznychne, a small town near the eastern front line.

It was not yet clear if the Ukrainian blitz could signal a turning point in the war, although some analysts cautioned that fighting would probably go on for months. Momentum has switched back- and-forth before, but rarely with such a big and sudden swing.

The mood was jubilant across the country.

In Kharkiv, authorities hailed that power and water had been restored to about 80 percent of the region’s population.

“You are heroes!!!” Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on Telegram, referring to crews who restored utilities in Ukraine's second-biggest city. “Thanks to everyone who did everything possible on this most difficult night for Kharkiv to normalize the life of the city as soon as possible.”

The upbeat mood was also captured by a President Volodymyr Zelensky late Sunday on social media.

“Do you still think you can intimidate, break us, force us to make concessions?” Zelensky asked. “Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst for us are not as scary and deadly as your ‘friendship’ and brotherhood.’ ”

Meanwhile, in Russia, military bloggers and patriotic commentators blamed President Vladimir Putin’s government for failing to mobilize more forces and take stronger action against Ukraine.

“People who convinced President Putin that the operation will be fast and effective … these people really set up all of us,” said Boris Nadezhdin, a former parliament member.

Even amid Ukraine’s high spirits, the casualties kept mounting. The nation’s presidential office said Monday that at least four civilians were killed and 11 others wounded in Russian attacks in nine regions of the country. The U.N. Human Rights Office said last week that 5,767 civilians have been killed so far.

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