Moscow gave up its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, in a sudden collapse of one of the war’s principal front lines after Ukrainian forces made a rapid advance, Reuters reported.
The swift fall of Izium in Kharkiv province was Moscow’s worst defeat since its troops were forced back from the capital Kyiv in March.
Ukraine hailed it as a turning point in the 6-month-old war, with thousands of Russian soldiers leaving behind ammunition stockpiles and equipment as they fled.
The state-run TASS news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying it had ordered troops to leave the vicinity and reinforce operations elsewhere in Donetsk.
The head of Russia’s administration in Kharkiv told residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to “save lives,” TASS reported.
Witnesses described traffic jams of cars with people leaving Russian-held territory.
In a nightly video address on Saturday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his country’s armed forces had recovered around 2,000 square kilometres of territory since its counter-offensive was launched earlier this month.
“The Russian army is claiming the title of fastest army in the world … keep running!,” Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, wrote on Twitter.