‘Do you think you can break us?’ Zelensky defiant toward Putin as Ukraine claws back territory

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a defiant challenge to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, after Russian troops, in retreat, struck Ukrainian power plants.

Writing on Facebook, the Ukrainian president asked: “Do you still think you can intimidate, break us…?”

Do you still think you can intimidate, break us? Zelensky challenged Putin.Credit:Facebook

“Did you really not understand anything? Didn’t [you] understand who we are? What we are for? What are we talking about?”

Ukraine accused Russian forces of attacking civilian infrastructure in response to a rapid weekend offensive by Ukrainian troops that drove Russia to abandon its main bastion in the Kharkiv region.

Zelensky said late on Sunday that Russian attacks caused a total blackout in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, and partial blackouts in the Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.

Ukrainian officials said the targets of the retaliatory attacks included water facilities and a thermal power station.

The Kremlin retaliated on Sunday, attacking a power station in Kharkiv and plunging the city into darkness.Credit:AP

Underscoring Kyiv’s willingness to shoulder difficulties in its fight with Russia, Zelinsky wrote: “Read it on your lips: Without gas or without you? Without you.”

“Without or without the light? Without you.

“Without water or without you? Without you. Without food or without you? Without you.

“Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst – for us are not as scary and deadly as your ‘friendship and brotherhood’,” Zelensky said in a reference to the Russian view of Ukrainian’s culture.

“But history will put everything in place. And we will [exist] with gas, lights, water and food.. and WITHOUT you!”

Zelensky has described Ukraine’s offensive in the northeast as a potential breakthrough in the six-month-old war, and said the winter could see further territorial gains if Kyiv received more powerful weapons.

In the worst defeat for Moscow’s forces since they were repelled from the outskirts of the capital Kyiv in March, thousands of Russian soldiers left behind ammunition and equipment as they fled the city of Izium, which they had used as a logistics hub.

Ukraine’s advance against Russia.Credit:Nine/ Institute for the Study of War

Ukraine’s chief commander, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said the armed forces had regained control of more than 3000 square km since the start of this month.

Moscow’s almost total silence on the defeat – or any explanation for what had taken place in northeastern Ukraine – provoked significant anger among some pro-war commentators and Russian nationalists on social media. Some called on Sunday for President Vladimir Putin to make immediate changes to ensure ultimate victory in the war.

The US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, also denounced Russia’s strikes on the power and water supplies.

“Russia’s apparent response to Ukraine liberating cities and villages in the east: sending missiles to attempt to destroy critical civilian infrastructure,” Brink tweeted.

Moscow denies its forces deliberately target civilians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.Credit:AP, Bloomberg

“They are unable to reconcile themselves to defeats on the battlefield,” Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the president’s office, posted an image on Telegram of electrical infrastructure on fire but added power had been restored in some regions.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov described Sunday’s attacks as “cynical revenge” for the success of Ukrainian troops at the front, particularly in Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s gains are important politically for Zelenskiy as he seeks to keep Europe united behind Ukraine – supplying weapons and money – even as an energy crisis looms this winter following cuts in Russian gas supplies to European customers.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces would continue to advance.

Rubble in central Kharkiv, pictured last week.Credit:AP

“We will not be standing still,” he said in a CNN interview recorded on Friday in Kyiv. “We will be slowly, gradually moving forward.”

Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine needed to secure retaken territory against a possible Russian counterattack on stretched Ukrainian supply lines. He told the Financial Times that Ukrainian forces could be encircled by fresh Russian troops if they advanced too far.

But he said the offensive had gone far better than expected, describing it as a “snowball rolling down a hill”.

“It’s a sign that Russia can be defeated,” he said.

Kyiv-based military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the gains could bring a further push into Luhansk region, whose capture Russia claimed at the beginning of July.

“If you look at the map, it is logical to assume that the offensive will develop in the direction of Svatove – Starobelsk, and Sievierodonetsk – Lysychansk,” he said.

The head of Russia’s administration in Kharkiv told residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia, TASS reported on Saturday. Witnesses described traffic jams with people leaving Russian-held territory.

Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the Luhansk People’s Republic, was quoted by Russian news agencies saying that Ukrainian forces were attempting to penetrate that region, which has been held by Russian forces since July.

“Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups have not stopped their attempts to infiltrate the territory of the republic for the purpose of provocation and intimidating our citizens,” he said, adding that there had been “no retreat from positions held by the republic.”

Washington appeared to take a cautious public posture, with the Pentagon referring Reuters to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s remarks on Thursday about Kyiv’s “encouraging” battlefield successes.

Britain’s defence ministry said on Sunday that fighting continued around Izium and the city of Kupiansk, the sole rail hub supplying Russia’s front line across northeastern Ukraine, which has been retaken by Ukraine’s forces.


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