Russia said Saturday it was retreating from the eastern Ukrainian city of Lyman, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin decreed the city would be brought under Russian control through a widely condemned annexation in an embarrassingly quick concession from the Kremlin.
The Russian Ministry of Defense posted on its official Telegram account that it withdrew from the city, saying the troops were repositioning to a “more advantageous” location due to the “threat of encirclement.”
The announcement came an hour after the official Twitter account of Ukraine’s Military of Defense posted a video of its soldiers flying the Ukrainian flag in Lyman.
Lyman, a crucial transit hub in the Donetsk region with a pre-war population of about 20,000, was reportedly encircled by Ukrainian troops looking to retake control of the city earlier this week.
Putin boasted about the historic and permanent nature of the annexations Friday, declaring in a Friday speech, “People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens forever.”
Russia first took control of Lyman in May, giving it an important rail and supply hub as it refocused its invasion in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Russian state media claimed Tuesday referendums passed nearly unanimously in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and Putin signed a decree Friday officially annexing the territories. The annexations were widely condemned by international leaders, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres denounced the move as a “dangerous escalation” on Thursday.
Lyman is “already liberated,” an anonymous senior Ukrainian military official told the New York Times, adding, “The Russians have nowhere to run.”
Denis Pushilin, the Kremlin-backed leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that claims Lyman as part of its territory, bemoaned the timing of Ukraine’s overtaking of Lyman on Friday, saying: “The Ukrainian army is trying with all its might to blacken this historic event for us.”
One of the Russian regiments fleeing Lyman is the 752nd Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment, which has “a tragic tradition of getting cut off, surrounded and all but destroyed,” writes Forbes’ David Axe. The same group was forced to withdraw from fighting during the First Chechen War in 1994 under similar circumstances.