Ukraine live briefing: Ukraine claims control of Lyman after Russians withdraw

A member of Ukraine's national guard walks on the rubble of a bridge in the Donetsk region's Sviatohirsk on Saturday. Nearby, Ukrainian troops ousted Russian-backed forces from Lyman. (Oleg Petrasyuk/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The Russian Defense Ministry says its troops withdrew from the eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman “due to the threat of encirclement” — a day after the Kremlin illegally annexed that region. Ukraine’s military suggested it had full control of the city after it announced that Russian troops had been killed or captured.

Ukrainian forces surrounded thousands of Russian troops in the Donetsk region’s city after moving on the transport hub overnight, after the Kremlin hosted an elaborate ceremony and pop concert celebrating its annexation of Ukrainian territory. Russia’s land seizure has drawn a forceful rebuke from Western countries and the United Nations.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

Battle for Lyman

  • In a tweet, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said “almost all” of Russian troops in Lyman had been killed or captured, suggesting that the city was under its control. A video recorded in the city shows Ukrainian troops throwing Russian flags from atop a government building, a ceremonial end to Kremlin-backed control of the area. A spokesman with the Russian Defense Ministry said its troops had retreated from Lyman.
  • Ukrainian troops recaptured villages near Lyman and encircled the city, Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, told The Washington Post on Saturday. The city sits on the edge of the eastern Donetsk region, one of the four territories now claimed by Russia and where separatists have held territory since 2014.
  • Ukrainian forces appeared to wave the country’s blue and yellow flag at a sign on the outskirts of Lyman in a video shared by the head of the Ukrainian’s president’s office. The Washington Post could not immediately verify that footage’s location. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about the flag in his nightly address on Saturday, saying that it was in Lyman and that it “will be everywhere” as the country combats Russia’s annexation efforts.
  • Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, called for “more drastic measures” that could include “the use of low-yield nuclear weapons” after the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had retreated from Lyman. The prominent pro-war figure is one of the many hard-line right-wing voices who have been pushing for a sharp escalation in Russian attacks on Ukraine. Putin has warned that the annexed territories will be defended with “all military means” at Russia’s disposal, while the deputy head of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, has warned that Russia could use a nuclear weapon to that end.

Key developments

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency said Russian authorities had “temporarily detained” the director general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant for questioning. An IAEA official told The Washington Post that the nuclear watchdog, which has some staffers on-site, had sought clarification from Russian authorities after reports that Igor Murashov had been missing. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office said it was investigating the incident as a kidnapping. Russian forces control the plant in the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine, and Ukrainian workers operate it.
  • In a statement posted Saturday afternoon, the IAEA said it was still in contact with authorities about Murashov. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the authorities that he wished for Murashov’s safe return and for him “to resume his important functions at the plant,” according to the statement. It also said Grossi is set to visit Kyiv and Moscow next week to continue discussions about the Zaporizhzhia plant.
  • Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, Zelensky said after Russia’s move to absorb swaths of his country. The remarks may be more symbolic than practical: A speedy admittance of Ukraine to the military alliance would require members to immediately send troops to fight Russia.

Battlefield updates

  • Ukrainian officials said Saturday that 24 people were killed when suspected Russian shelling hit a convoy of cars in the northeastern region of Kharkiv this week. The Ukrainian Security Service said 13 of the 24 people were children. Much of the region came back under Ukrainian control last month after a counteroffensive and Russian retreat, but this shelling struck a zone that neither side fully controls.
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commended Ukraine’s recapture of Lyman on Saturday, adding that it was an “encouraging battlefield success," Reuters reported.
  • The regions claimed by Russia are in Ukraine’s east and southeast. Here are three maps that explain Russia’s annexation and losses in Ukraine.
  • A suspected Russian missile strike tore through a convoy in Zaporizhzhia, killing at least 25 people on Friday.

Global impact

  • U.N. Secretary General António Guterres called the annexation a “moment of peril” and a clear violation of international law that would “further jeopardize the prospects for peace.” Washington imposed new sanctions against Russian military and government officials, while President Biden called Russia’s illegal move a “brazen effort to redraw the borders of its neighbor.”
  • Natural gas supply from Russian energy giant Gazprom to Italy was shut off Saturday, Italian provider Eni said in a statement. Gazprom said it did not complete Italy’s resource request because it was “not possible to supply gas through Austria,” according to Eni. It’s the latest in a string of Gazprom supply halts to European countries, including Germany, Poland and Bulgaria.
  • The European Commission’s president said the launch of a gas pipeline linking Bulgaria and Greece was “a game changer” for energy security. “The energy crisis is serious, and it requires from Europe a common response,” Ursula von der Leyen said Saturday of the European Union’s effort to wean itself from Russian supplies. She gave the speech as tensions simmered over leaks from the Nord Stream pipelines that supplied Europe with Russian gas.
  • Finland closed its border to Russians with tourist visas, shutting one of the last land routes to Europe for Russians seeking to escape a partial military mobilization. Traffic jams had formed at the border as many Russians fled to avoid being sent to fight in Ukraine.

From our correspondents

Americans captured by Russia detail months of beatings, interrogation: In their first extensive interview since being freed, Alex Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh recount to reporter Dan Lamothe the physical and psychological abuse they endured over 104 days in captivity.

They evaded Russian forces for hours, slogging through pine forests and marshes in Ukraine to avoid detection. The U.S. military veterans were left behind — “abandoned,” they said — after their Ukrainian task force was attacked, and determined that their best chance of survival was to hike back to their base in Kharkiv.

What followed was an excruciating, often terrifying 104 days in captivity.