Russia has lost the battle to take control of Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv after weeks of attacks, according to reports.
Russian troops were forced to withdraw on Saturday following weeks of bombardment and a failed effort to encircle the city.
Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city and focusing on guarding supply routes.
The news comes as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces are engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Russian forces will instead focus on launching mortar, artillery, and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk province in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.”
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine “appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv.”
It said, “Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone seizing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city.”
It means Ukrainian artillery can now threaten the town of Vovchansk, which contains a key highway and rail line supplying Russian forces in Donbas.
The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, told the BBC that Russian troops had only ever managed to enter a small part of the key north-eastern city once, and were not there for a long time.
“The Russians were constantly shelling Kharkiv because they were staying very close to the city,” Terekhov said.
But now that they had retreated, “people are gradually coming back to the city.
“We provide water, gas and electricity supply to all the citizens.
“However, unfortunately, many residential buildings are destroyed or damaged.
“So, in the future we will have to do huge reconstruction.”
Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling attacks on Kharkiv in the past day.
He added that Russian troops had heavily minded the region and smaller towns and settlements were still under threat.
“This indicates that it is too early to relax,” he said.
“I urge everyone to respond adequately to alarms and not to be on the streets unnecessarily.”
He said Ukraine had launched a counteroffensive near Izyum, a city 78 miles south of Kharkiv that has been under effective Russian control since at least the beginning of April.
Though the fight is far from over, a stalled Russian advance and Ukrainian counter-attacks are what preceded Russia’s retreat from Kyiv earlier in the war.
A similar retreat from Donbas would spell disaster for Putin.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation that Ukrainians were doing everything they could to drive out the Russians, but “no one today can predict how long this war will last.”
“This will depend, unfortunately, not only on our people, who are already giving their maximum,” he said.
“This will depend on our partners, on European countries, on the entire free world.”
This week, the president and prime minister of Finland announced they want the Nordic nation to seek NATO membership.
Officials in Sweden could follow within days.
The Nordic nations’ potential bids to join the Western military alliance were thrown into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is “not of a favorable opinion” toward the idea.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.