LYMAN, Ukraine (AP) — The bodies of Russian soldiers lay in the streets of a key city in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, evidence of a hasty retreat that marked yet another military defeat for Moscow as it struggles to hold on to areas it illegally annexed last week.
Russia’s upper house of parliament on Tuesday approved the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, following “referendums” that Ukraine and its Western allies have called illegal and fraudulent.
In response to the annexation decision, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy formally ruled out talks with Russia. Zelenskyy’s decree issued on Tuesday states that holding negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin became impossible after his decision to take control of Ukraine’s four regions.
The Kremlin responded to the Ukrainian president’s executive order saying it will wait for Ukraine to agree to sit down for talks on ending the conflict, noting that this may not happen until a new Ukrainian president is appointed. will not come into operation.
“We will wait for the outgoing president to change his position or wait for a future Ukrainian president who would revise his position in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Despite the Kremlin’s apparent political bravado, the picture on the ground underscored the disarray Putin faces in his response to Ukrainian advances and attempts to establish new Russian borders.
Over the weekend, Russian troops withdrew from Lyman, a strategic eastern town that the Russians had used as a logistics and transportation hub, to avoid being surrounded by Ukrainian forces. The city’s liberation gave Ukraine a key vantage point to drive its offensive deeper into Russian-held territories.
Two days later, an Associated Press team reporting from the city saw at least 18 bodies of Russian soldiers still on the ground. The Ukrainian army appears to have recovered the bodies of their comrades after fierce battles for control of Lyman, but did not immediately remove those of the Russians.
“We are fighting for our land, for our children, for our people to live better, but all of this comes at a very high price,” said a Ukrainian soldier who goes by the name Rud.
The people of Lyman emerged from the basements where they had been hiding during the battle for control of the city and built bonfires to cook on. The town has had no water, electricity or gas since May. Residential buildings were burned down. A few residents emerged on bicycles.
An 85-year-old woman, who identified herself by name and surname, Valentyna Kuzmychna, recalled a recent explosion nearby.
“I was standing in the hallway, about five meters away, when it exploded,” she said. “God forbid, now I can’t hear well.”
Russian forces launched new missile strikes on Ukrainian towns on Tuesday as Ukrainian forces continued their counteroffensives in the east and south.
Several missiles hit Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, damaging its infrastructure and causing power outages. Kharkiv Governor Oleh Syniehubov said one person was killed and at least two others, including a 9-year-old girl, were injured.
In the south, four civilians were injured when Russian missiles hit the town of Nikopol.
After regaining control of Lyman in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian forces pushed further east and may have gone as far as the border of neighboring Luhansk region as they advanced towards Kreminna, said the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War in its latest Combat Situation Analysis.
On Monday, Ukrainian forces also made significant gains in the south, raising flags over the villages of Arkhanhelske, Myroliubivka, Khreshchenivka, Mykhalivka and Novovorontsovka.
Despite the latest military gains, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhen Perebyinis has called for the deployment of more weapons to Ukraine following Russia’s announcement of partial mobilization last month.
In a video address at a conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Russia’s war on Ukraine on Tuesday, Perebyinis said the additional weapons would not lead to an escalation, but rather help end the war earlier.
“We need additional long-range artillery and ammunition, combat aircraft and armed vehicles to continue liberating occupied territories,” the deputy minister said. “We need anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems to protect our civilians and critical infrastructure against terrorist attacks against Russian forces.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that the army had recruited more than 200,000 reservists as part of a partial mobilization launched two weeks ago. He said recruits undergo training at 80 firing ranges before being deployed to front lines in Ukraine.
Putin’s mobilization order stated that up to 300,000 reservists were to be called up, but left the door open for a larger call-up. It sparked protests in many parts of Russia and caused tens of thousands of men to flee Russia to challenge the Kremlin.
Ukrainian successes in the east and south came even as Russia moved to absorb four Ukrainian regions amidst fighting.
Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, voted on Tuesday to ratify treaties to make eastern Donetsk and Lugansk and the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia part of Russia. The lower house did so on Monday.
Putin is expected to quickly approve the annexation treaties.
Russian moves to incorporate Ukrainian regions were made so hastily that even the exact boundaries of the absorbed territories were unclear.
Adam Schreck reported from Kyiv.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine