More than a thousand houses have been destroyed in Kharkiv since the beginning of the war. Most of them are houses. Video / Maria Avdeeva
Last week may have diminished as the moment when the war in Ukraine began to turn against Russia.
Vladimir Putin’s forces have experienced a series of stunning reversals on the battlefield. For the first time, Ukraine recaptured more territory than it lost each day throughout the week, pushing Russian troops 32 km from Kyiv.
The legendary 4th Guards Panzer Division of Russia, famous for its victories near Stalingrad and Berlin, was defeated in a small little-known Ukrainian city called Trostyanets.
By the end of the week, it seemed that Ukraine had even moved the war to Russia, as Kyiv refused to confirm whether it was behind a cross-border helicopter raid that left the Russian city of Belgorod out of control.
In Russia, Putin seemed increasingly isolated amid Western intelligence claims that he was lied to by ministers and generals too scared to tell him the truth.
But there have been warnings that the most dangerous moments may lie ahead as Ukrainian forces await a new World War I-style trench in the Donbass, and Western capitals weigh the risks of Putin resorting to weapons of mass destruction.
The most startling reports of the week came from Trostyanets, a small town of about 20,000 people near Sumy in northeastern Ukraine.
In the photos from the city last weekend you can see the tanks of the 4th Guards Cantemir Division of Russia, broken to twisted and smoking debris.
The 4th Guards is so synonymous with Russian military prowess that the Moscow metro station is named after it.
She played a key role in two of the most important battles of modern history: the great Soviet defensive position near Stalingrad, which averted the Nazi offensive worth more than a million lives, and the Battle of Berlin, when the Nazis were finally destroyed. defeated.
However, last weekend the legendary division was humiliated by Ukraine in a shocking illustration of how bad the war is for Russia.
Bad news continued to come for Moscow as Ukraine withdrew its forces 32 km from Kyiv.
On Wednesday, Ukraine seized the ruins of a key suburb of Irpen, and on Thursday returned the Gostomel airport, which Russia captured at the start of the war, when Moscow still believed it could capture Kyiv in a matter of days.
Ukrainian tanks are now making history when the country’s 1st Panzer Brigade broke through the Russian siege of Chernihiv in the north on Thursday.
Kyiv now looks out of reach for Putin. Even the 40-kilometer convoy of Russian armor that had been waiting outside the city for weeks had dispersed, seemingly melting into the fog of war.
Russia’s humiliation did not end there.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, who is called “Putin’s dog”, was caught lying after he said he was in Ukraine.
Kadyrov posted on social media a photo of him praying in Mecca with a machine gun on his side, and said it was done outside the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol. But the signal logo of the Pulsar gas station in the background betrayed it: there are no Pulsar gas stations in Ukraine, and the picture was obviously taken in Russia.
Putin’s government looks increasingly chaotic: top commanders are under house arrest, and officials seem to contradict each other.
Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, finally appeared on Tuesday, putting an end to speculation about his whereabouts after he disappeared from view for two weeks.
General Shoigu looked noticeably grayer than the last time he was seen in public, General Shoigu confirmed that Russian forces were retreating from Kiev and the north to focus on the Donbass.
This step had already been announced by General Sergei Rudskaya of the General Staff last week, but at the time it contradicted the Kremlin.
General Shoigu’s return seemed to indicate some form of internal struggle for strategy in Putin’s government.
General Shoigu was the only one of his immediate entourage who apparently had a personal relationship with Putin: they were photographing together hunting and fishing in Siberia. But there are reports that they diverged amid allegations by US intelligence this week that Putin is angry at his defense minister and believes he was lied to about the war in Ukraine.
This was supported by British intelligence, which said that high-ranking Russian officials were afraid to tell Putin the truth.
A source in U.S. intelligence said this week: “We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military. Now there is a constant tension between Putin and the Ministry of Defense, which stems from Putin’s distrust of the leadership of the Ministry of Defense.
Declassified intelligence claimed that Putin “did not even know that his military was using and losing conscripts … which shows a clear failure in the flow of accurate information.”
Sir Jeremy Fleming, head of GCHQ, said this week: “They are afraid to tell him the truth.” But he added: “What is happening, and the extent of these misconceptions, must be crystal clear to the regime.”
Fleming said Russian troops were so demoralized that they refused to obey orders, sabotaging their own equipment and accidentally shooting down their own planes.
Unusual aviation activities ahead of his appearance at a rally in Moscow last week have suggested that Putin may be spending most of his time in a nuclear bunker near the Urals, adding to his isolation.
It is reported that high-ranking officials, including the deputy head of the National Guard, General Roman Gavrilov, and the head of the FSB’s foreign intelligence service, Russian Security Service General Sergei Besyada, have been fired and are under house arrest.
On the territory of Ukraine, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kiev and the north looks real.
They continue to fire on civilian targets, including a cancer hospital in Chernihiv, and Ukrainian officials warn that the situation remains dangerous, but it is unusual for armies to open fire to cover the retreat.
Martial law in the Donbass
Now the focus is on the Donbass, where Russia says it will focus its military action. Tens of thousands of battle-hardened Ukrainian servicemen are preparing to confront them in trenches similar to World War I, amid warnings that fighting could be fierce and protracted.
If both sides concentrate their forces on one front, military experts say the war could drag on for three years or more.
Despite the fact that Russia has suffered heavy losses and is clearly losing the war, history warns that Ukraine cannot afford to be complacent.
The USSR faced the same heavy losses and failed to achieve its goal of taking control of Finland in the 1939-40 winter war. But Finland still had to cede territory in Karelia to the Council before Stalin agreed to withdraw his troops.
An even more serious warning came from Stalingrad, where the legend of Russia’s 4th Guards Panzer Division was forged.
Stalingrad became a decisive turning point on the Eastern Front of World War II as the Red Army repulsed the German offensive. But the victory cost more than 1.1 million Soviet lives – much more than the German losses.
The Soviets won on the Eastern Front in part because Stalin was willing to accept the huge losses of his own forces. It remains to be seen whether much less will be enough to avert Putin.
Meanwhile, the threat of nuclear escalation continues to hang over the continent. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has tried to reduce the risk of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons for the second time in weeks.
“No one is even thinking about the idea of using nuclear weapons,” Peskov told American television.
But he is opposed by other dignitaries, including Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and close ally of Putin, who has repeatedly warned that Russia would use nuclear weapons if threatened.
And allegations this week that Russian planes armed with nuclear bombs flew over Sweden earlier this month for the purpose of a deliberate act of intimidation will not help allay fears.