Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has traveled to Izyum, one of the largest cities recently retaken from Russia in a lightning counteroffensive in the eastern part of the country.
The Ukrainian military in a statement on social media said Zelenskiy and military officials “took part” in a ceremony raising the Ukrainian flag over the liberated city, which was key for Russia’s ambitions to capture the Donbas region.
Photos showed Zelenskiy greeting Ukrainian soldiers participating in the rapidly advancing counteroffensive.
Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on September 13 that Ukraine was in full control of more than 4,000 square kilometers of territory recaptured from Russian forces and stabilizing another 4,000 square kilometers.
“We are moving only in one direction — forward and until victory,” he said in a post on social media after his visit.
The Ukrainian military has pushed Russian forces out of hundreds of cities and towns in the northeast of the country, and Zelenskiy said the stabilization of the liberated communities was under way.
But despite the recent sizeable gains of the Ukrainian forces, U.S. President Joe Biden on September 13 predicted “a long haul” ahead.
Biden, asked whether Ukraine had reached a turning point in the six-month war, 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,” Biden said.
In Strasbourg, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she would travel to Kyiv later on September 14, her third visit since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Von der Leyen, who announced the visit in the presence of Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska and dressed in blue and yellow, the colors of Ukraine’s flag, said she and Zelenskiy would discuss Kyiv’s integration into the European Union’s single market.
Earlier on September 14, Ukraine said it had for the first time encountered an Iranian-made suicide drone used by Russia on the battlefield.
The Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate published what it said were images of the wreckage of what appeared to be a delta-shaped drone flown by Iran known as the Shahed-136, or “Witness” in Persian.
Ukrainian troops encountered the drone near Kupyansk amid Kyiv’s offensive that has punched through Russian lines around Kharkiv on the eastern front, the Ukrainian military said.
The Shahed drone appeared to have been shot down by Ukrainian forces and hadn’t detonated on impact as designed, though little other information was immediately released by Kyiv.
An inscription on the drone identified it as an “M214 Gran-2,” which didn’t immediately correspond to known Russian military equipment.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. Russia did not acknowledge the Ukrainian claim.
The British Ministry of Defense, in an intelligence update on September 14, similarly noted the Ukrainian shootdown claim, saying, “Russia has highly likely deployed Iranian uncrewed aerial vehicles…in Ukraine for the first time.”
“The loss of a Shahed-136 near the front lines suggests there is a realistic possibility that Russia is attempting to use the system to conduct tactical strikes rather than against more-strategic targets farther into Ukrainian territory,” British intelligence said.
In July, U.S. intelligence publicly warned that Iran planned to send hundreds of bomb-carrying drones to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine.
Iran initially denied the accusation but the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has boasted in recent days about arming the world’s top powers.
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.”
Though the recent territorial shifts marked one of Russia’s biggest setbacks since its troops were repelled from Kyiv in the early days of the war, Moscow signaled it was no closer to agreeing to a negotiated peace, and the Kremlin insisted it would achieve its military goals.
Russia said it was carrying out strikes across the Ukrainian front line and accused Ukrainian soldiers of abusing civilians in the recaptured territories.
“Air, rocket, and artillery forces are carrying out massive strikes on units of the Ukrainian armed forces in all operational directions,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in its daily briefing on the conflict.
“High-precision” strikes have also been launched on Ukrainian positions around Slovyansk and Kostyantynivka in the eastern Donetsk region, it added.
In a phone call on September 13, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to find a diplomatic solution for the conflict based on a cease-fire and the complete withdrawal of Russian troops, a spokesman for the chancellor’s office said.