Russian troops leave key city of Lyman before Ukrainian offensive, a day after annexing the region

Ukrainian soldiers defend an attack post near Lyman in eastern Ukraine.

Photo: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian Defense Ministry announced that its troops are withdrawing from the city of Lyman, in eastern Ukraine, "due to the threat of encirclement"a day after the Kremlin illegally annexed that region, The Washington Post reported.

The Ukrainian forces had surrounded thousands of Russian troops in the city from the Donetsk region after moving to the transport hub overnight, after the Kremlin staged an elaborate ceremony and pop concert to celebrate its annexation of that Ukrainian territory.

Russia's seizure of land has drawn a sharp rebuke from Western countries and the United Nations.

In Zaporizhzhia, another of the four annexed regions, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the head of Europe's largest nuclear power plant had been "temporarily detained to answer questions".

Ukrainian troops recaptured villages near Lyman and surrounded the town, Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, told The Washington Post on Saturday.

The city sits on the edge of the eastern Donetsk region, one of four territories now claimed by Russia and held by separatists since 2014.

Taking Lyman could help Ukrainian troops enter the nearby Luhansk region.

Ukrainian forces appeared to wave the country's blue and yellow flag above a sign outside Lyman, in a video shared by the head of the Ukrainian president's office.

The pro-Kremlin Telegram channels acknowledged losses around Lyman.

A Moscow-backed separatist leader in Donetsk said the city had been surrounded on Friday.

The Ukrainian state-owned company Energoatom accused a Russian patrol of detaining the general director of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant after he left the facility on Friday in his car.

“At the moment, there is no information about its fate,” the nuclear operator said early Saturday, appealing to the UN atomic energy watchdog to intervene.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Russian authorities had "temporarily detained" the director general of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for questioning.

Russian forces control the plant in the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine, while Ukrainian workers operate it.

Ukraine is requesting "accelerated entry" into NATO, President Volodymyr Zelensky said after Russia's decision to absorb four regions of his country.

The comments may be more symbolic than practical: a swift admission of Ukraine into the military alliance would require members to immediately send troops to fight Russia, under collective defense obligations.

A UN resolution calls on "all states" not to recognize the Russian annexation, which also failed to pass the Security Council on Friday after Russia's veto.

Four nations, including China and India, abstained from voting on the resolution, which condemned Russia's "so-called illegal referendums" in Ukraine.

Read more
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* Ukrainian counterattack traps thousands of Russian soldiers in Lyman
* Putin officially declared that four regions of Ukraine now belong to Russia

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