Ukrainian servicemen walk, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the town of Izium, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine September 14, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Izium: Ukraine said it was trying to extend its lightning counter offensive in the east, but pro-Russian officials said they were holding the line for now and US President Joe Biden said the war still looked like a long haul despite Kyiv’s recent success.

Russian forces suffered a stunning reversal this month after Ukrainian troops made a rapid armoured thrust with special forces in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, forcing a sometimes rushed and chaotic Russian withdrawal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address on Tuesday that his army had liberated around 8,000 square km of territory so far this month, a swath of land nearly equivalent to the island of Cyprus.

Reuters was not able to immediately verify the full scope of battlefield successes claimed by Ukraine.

What he called “stabilisation measures” - fully securing and rooting out any pro-Russian elements - had been completed in about half of that territory, said Zelenskiy, who repeated his desire to liberate all of his country by force.

Ukrainian troops were now assaulting the Russian-held town of Lyman in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy said, and were eyeing territorial gains in the neighbouring Luhansk region which is under Russian control.

“There is now an assault on Lyman,” Arestovych said in a video posted on YouTube, predicting a fight too for the town of Svatovo, where he said the Russians have storage depots.

“And that is what they fear most - that we take Lyman and then advance on Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” he said, referring to twin cities in the Luhansk region taken by Russia after fierce fighting in June and July.

Denis Pushilin, head of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said troops loyal to Moscow had successfully pushed back Ukrainian forces trying to make inroads into Lyman and that the situation had stabilised for now.

“Nothing worked out for the enemy,” said Pushilin, adding that Ukrainian attacks to the north and south of Lyman had also been repelled.

Asked whether Ukraine’s lightning counter offensive in the east was a turning point in the six-month war, U.S. President Joe Biden said it was hard to tell.

“It’s clear the Ukrainians have made significant progress.

But I think it’s going to be a long haul,” said Biden.

Russian forces still control about a fifth of Ukraine in the south and east, even though Kyiv is now on the offensive in both areas.

The White House, which has provided billions of dollars of weapons and support to Ukraine, has said the United States is likely to announce a new military aid package in the “coming days”.

Pope criticises war

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that God did not guide religions towards war, an implicit criticism of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who backs the attack of Ukraine and has boycotted a conference of faith leaders.

“God is peace. He guides us always in the way of peace, never that of war,” Francis said, speaking on the second day of a trip to Kazakhstan.