Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

RIVNE, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops inched nearer to recapturing the strategic jap metropolis of Lyman on Saturday, only a day after President Vladimir V. Putin’s internationally derided declaration that the area the place it lies and three others in Ukraine had been now a part of Russia.

The battle for Lyman, a metropolis in Donetsk Province with a pre-war inhabitants of 20,000, has rapidly was a poorly timed sideshow for the Kremlin after it illegally declared its annexation of swaths of Ukraine and Kyiv’s stunning victories in the country’s northeast final month.

The metropolis’s place on the banks of the Siversky Donets river means its seize by Ukrainian forces would lend them a strategic foothold for additional advances east. It additionally would put further stress on the Kremlin, which has been going through blowback at house over its setbacks on the battlefield and the conscription of lots of of hundreds of males to battle in Ukraine.

Much stays unclear concerning the unfolding state of affairs on the bottom in Lyman as Ukrainian commanders there are barred from discussing the continued battle to the media. But Ukrainian and pro-Russian officers, pro-Russian social media accounts and unverified images present that Ukraine’s forces clearly have the higher hand.

Denis Pushilin, the chief of Russia’s proxy administration within the Donetsk People’s Republic, stated on Friday that the city was “half encircled.”

“This is very unpleasant news, but we must look soberly at the situation and draw conclusions from our mistakes,” he stated. Mr. Pushilin additionally stated on Telegram that Russia had misplaced management of Yampil and Dobryshev, villages north and east of Lyman.

On Friday night time, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine thanked the army models chargeable for seizing Yampil and hinted on the progress in Lyman.

“We have substantial results in the east of our country,” Mr. Zelensky stated. “There is already enough public information about this. Everyone has heard what is happening in Lyman, Donetsk region.”

Pro-Russian bloggers reported with rising alarm on Saturday that their facet was going through a stinging defeat. One widespread account on the Telegram messaging app said that Lyman was “practically surrounded by the enemy.” Another predicted that the city would “be completely lost in the next 1-3 days.” And a 3rd said that sources “do not rule out the abandonment” of Lyman by Russian troops with a purpose to keep away from encirclement.

For Russia, the brand new setback got here at a very delicate second: lower than 24 hours after Mr. Putin on Friday delivered his most fiery speech of the struggle, one which solid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a part of an existential battle with the West.

Russia needed to hold Ukraine from taking Lyman as “a matter of principle,” a nationalist commentator, Yegor Kholmogorov, wrote. “Any retreat will look like a bad omen against the backdrop of yesterday’s events in Moscow.”

Ukrainian officers imagine that there are greater than 1,000 Russian troops defending Lyman, and the autumn of the 2 villages east and west of Lyman implies that Ukrainian forces are near instantly threatening the Russian provide routes that move east out of town.

If Russian forces don’t retreat and the routes out of Lyman are severed, Ukrainian forces can have efficiently surrounded town.

For the Kremlin, having Russian troops trapped inside Lyman can be a public relations nightmare. And for the Ukrainians, it will be a type of payback for the encirclement and defeat of their troops within the southern metropolis of Mariupol earlier within the struggle.

Lyman, which fell to the Russians in May, serves as a rail hub that flows into Donbas, the mineral wealthy area comprised of Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk Province that has lengthy been the main focus of Mr. Putin’s struggle goals.

Marco Hernandez, Josh Holder, Dan Bilefsky and Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.

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