KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Ukraine continued its show of defiance against Moscow’s illegal annexation claims on Sunday, with soldiers and police fanning out to search for straggling Russians in a key city claimed by Kyiv forces even as President Vladimir V. Putin declared it part of Russia. .
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said that Lyman, a strategic rail hub in the Donetsk region, had been completely cleared by Sunday afternoon, as Ukrainian forces conducted patrols and delivered aid to residents who had survived months of Russian occupation and weeks of battle as Ukraine struggled to recapture it. . The city now lies largely in ruins, without electricity, water or regular food supplies, according to Stanislav Zagrusky, the Ukrainian police chief responsible for the area.
Still, Zagrusky said in an interview, the resumption of Ukrainian police patrols on Saturday night, hours after the Ukrainian army declared the city liberated and the Russian army admitted it had withdrawn, underscored the absurdity of the grand ceremony. of the Kremlin a day earlier declaring that the territory had been incorporated into Russia.
“We do not care at all what they say, what decrees they issue, what announcements they make,” he said of the Kremlin authorities, deploring the conditions in which Russian troops had left Lyman residents during the occupation: “They absolutely did not any. for people all this time.”
“They did not try to restore electricity or water and people were living without regular food supplies,” he continued, adding that many residents needed medical attention.
It was unclear how many people remained in the city, which had a pre-war population of 20,000. Much of Lyman was in ruins from artillery attacks.
The Ukrainian commanders had initially thought that they would recapture Lyman quickly, but the Russian army sent in reinforcements. Fierce fighting broke out in dense forests and along the banks of the Siversky Donets River as Ukraine cut off roads used to move troops and ammunition into the city. Ukrainian forces nearly completed an encirclement of Lyman, even as Putin claimed the region around the city as part of Russia on Friday.
“In and around Lyman, there were significantly strong forces,” Colonel Sergei Cherevaty, a spokesman for Ukrainian troops fighting in the east, said in an interview.
Russian soldiers retreated chaotically, separating from their units and escaping in smaller groups into the surrounding forests, Col. Cherevaty said, with many killed or captured. Between 2,000 and 3,000 Russian soldiers remained in Lyman when Ukrainian forces reached the outskirts of the city on Friday, he said. It was unclear on Sunday how many Russian soldiers had fallen into Ukrainian hands.
Zagrusky, the police chief of the Kramatorsk district, which includes Lyman, said that although the Ukrainian army took prisoners after the battle, police officers had not arrested the Russian stragglers as of midday on Sunday. His officers discovered that the Russians had hastily abandoned a police station, leaving it littered with garbage.
The Ukrainian military posted a derisive message on Twitter claiming it had taken prisoners and mocking the Russian explanation for the withdrawal as a redeployment to the east. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that the troops at Lyman had made a tactical retreat to avoid being encircled and had withdrawn “to more advantageous lines”.
“We thank the Russian ‘Defence Ministry’ for their successful cooperation,” the Ukrainian tweet read. “Almost all of the Russian troops deployed to Lyman were successfully redeployed into body bags or Ukrainian captivity.”
On Saturday, Putin or his spokesman made no public comment on Lyman’s loss, not even pro-war commentators and two of Putin’s closest allies. harshly criticized the Ministry of Defense for withdrawing from the city.