Russia withdrew troops from the city of Lyman in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on Saturday, a day after the announcement of the annexation of the area and three other regions.
Ukrainian officials said earlier that their soldiers had surrounded the city.
Russian state-run news agency RIA reported that the Russian Ministry of Defense said its armed forces had retreated to more advantageous lines to avoid the risk of encirclement.
The ministry said Ukraine had a significant advantage in terms of the number of its armed forces and had set aside reserves to continue its counteroffensive territory captured by Russia.
Lyman has been held by Russia since May.
A video posted on Twitter by a reporter from The Kyiv Independent showed two Ukrainian soldiers tying a flag to a sign after recapturing the city.
Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor of the Luhansk region, said in a tweet on Saturday that the Ukrainian armed forces had blocked almost all opportunities for 5,000 Russian troops to leave the city or transport ammunition to other Russian soldiers. He said Ukraine would try to recapture Luhansk after Lyman was recaptured.
“Almost 5,000 Russian soldiers landed in the “#Lyman Cauldron.” The AFU blocked almost all opportunities to leave ammunition and transport it to Russians. After the removal of Liman, the #Luhansk region is the next #UkraineRussiaWar,” he tweeted.
Denis Pushilin, the Russian-backed leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, said in a telegram post that the city was facing a semicircle of Ukrainian armed forces. He said a street out of town remains under the control of local separatists and Russian forces but was regularly attacked.
Pushilin said his forces were fighting Ukraine and reserves were being called up but Ukraine had waged a serious battle for the city.
Pushilin said Ukraine is trying to overshadow Friday’s announcement that Russia is annexing four partially Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine.
The news comes after armed Russian soldiers monitored referendums in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions last weekend. These votes are regarded as unfree and unfair by the majority of the international community.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed annexation agreements for four regions of Ukraine, including the Donetsk region, during an elaborate ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday. The move escalated a conflict that is considered illegal by the United States and its allies.
In response, the US imposed additional sanctions on Russian officials and their families.
Prior to Russian annexation, Ukraine launched a major counteroffensive last month, recapturing thousands of square kilometers that Russia had recaptured at the start of the war.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces told the Washington Post that Ukraine had also recaptured four villages near Lyman.
— Updated at 10:36