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Ukraine troops say they take key town, Putin ally mulls possible nuclear response

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces said on Saturday they had captured a key stronghold in the occupied eastern Ukraine of Ryman. This crushing defeat prompted close allies of President Vladimir Putin to call for the possible use of low-grade nuclear weapons.

The capture came a day after President Putin announced that he would declare the annexation of four regions of Ukraine (including Donetsk, where Lyman resides) and place them under Russia’s nuclear umbrella.

Ukrainian soldiers made the allegations in a video filmed outside the city council building in central Ryman and posted on social media by Kirilo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential office of Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Dear Ukrainians, today the Ukrainian army was liberated and took control of the Lyman settlement in the Donetsk region,” says one of the soldiers. At the end of the video, a group of Ukrainian soldiers throw the Russian flag off the roof of the building and hoist the Ukrainian flag instead.

Hours earlier, Russia’s Defense Ministry had announced it would be withdrawing troops from the area “in connection with creating a threat of encirclement”.

Russia used Lyman as a logistics and transportation hub for operations in the northern Donetsk region. Its capture is Ukraine’s largest battlefield gain since a lightning strike in the northeast Kharkiv region last month.

Zelensky promised quicker success in Donbass, which mainly covers the Russian-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“In the past week, the number of Ukrainian flags in Donbass has increased. There will be more time in the week,” he said in a video speech at night.

He also indicated that Ukrainian forces had captured the village of Turske, on the main road east of Lyman.

The recent success has infuriated Putin’s allies, such as Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern region of Chechnya, who said he felt compelled to speak out.

“In my personal opinion, more drastic measures need to be taken, ranging from declaring martial law in border areas and using low-yield nuclear weapons,” Kadyrov told Telegram before Zelensky spoke. wrote.

Other officials, including former President Dmitry Medvedev, suggested that Russia might need to resort to nuclear weapons, but Kadyrov’s call was the most urgent and clear.

Putin said last week when he said he was ready to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity” by any means available, he said he was not bluffing, revealing on Friday that this extends to new areas claimed by Moscow. did.

Washington has said it would be firm against any use of nuclear weapons.

Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the Eastern Ukraine Army, said Russia had between 5,000 and 5,500 troops in Lyman before its capture, but the besieged number may have been less.

Neither side’s battlefield claims could be independently verified.

Kadyrov said the commander overseeing Lyman, Colonel Alexander Lapin, was “mediocre” and should be stripped of his decoration and sent to the front. He said he warned of the disaster.

“The general assured me that Lapin’s leadership talents were beyond doubt and that he did not think a retreat was possible.

Ukraine says taking Lyman will allow it to advance into the Luhansk region. Full occupation of the region was announced by Moscow in early July after weeks of crushing advances.

“Ryman is important because it is the next step towards the liberation of Donbass in Ukraine. This is an opportunity to go further into Kreminna and Shebiero Donetsk, which is very important psychologically,” Cherebaty said. rice field.

Donbass has been a major focus for Russia since February 24, when it launched what it called a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbor.

Putin on Friday declared the Donbass regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia to be Russian territories – a strip of territory equivalent to about 18% of Ukraine’s total land area.

Ukraine and its Western allies branded Russia’s move illegal. Kyiv has vowed to keep Russian military land free and has said it will not hold peace talks with Moscow while Putin is president.

Zelensky’s adviser Mikhaylo Podoljak mocked the Kremlin ceremony announcing the annexation on Friday.

“Russian troops are now leaving another strategic city and propaganda is looking for the culprits. Living in a fantasy world can hurt reality,” Podoljak wrote on Twitter.

Retired US General Ben Hodges said Russia’s defeat at Lyman represented a major political and military embarrassment for President Putin.

“This sheds a bright light that his claims are illegal and unenforceable,” he said.

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