Russian forces in the Donetsk region were “running and panicking on the street” as Ukraine pushed to reclaim Moscow-controlled territory in the east of the country. Donetsk, part of the embattled Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, is one of four regions announced as annexed by Moscow at the end of last month.
The Kremlin said the territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, and the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson now fell within Russia’s borders.
Moscow had held what has been internationally condemned as a set of sham referendums to induct the regions into Russian territory.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin then vowed to protect the areas Russia deemed part of its borders “with all the forces and means at our disposal”.
He added that the regions would “forever” remain part of Russia.
He said during the ceremony to formally annex the territories: “The people have made their choice. An unequivocal choice.
“This is the will of millions of people.”
The UN said the move “has no legal value and deserves to be condemned”.
But Ukrainian forces have worked to press forward in the Donetsk region, forcing Moscow’s troops from the strategic town of Lyman and the nearby village of Torske.
Another woman, described only as elderly, recalled the Russian forces as “moving everywhere” in their retreat.
Serhey Hadai, who heads up the regional administration for Luhansk, said Russian forces had indeed regrouped in Kreminna after leaving Torske and Lyman.
Saying that Ukrainian forces had yielded the city, he added: “Our defenders had to withdraw.
“They have entrenched themselves in new positions and continue to fight the Russian army.”
But earlier this week, Haidai said the “de-occupation of [the] Luhansk region has begun” in a post to his Telegram page.
He claimed “several settlements” had been reclaimed by Ukrainian forces, with the blue-and-yellow flag now flying in the area.
The Ukrinform news outlet added the governor stated Ukrainian forces had reclaimed six settlements in the embattled region.
The outlet quoted Haidai as saying: “In general, the direction is clear. After the liberation of Lyman, it was the turn of [the] Luhansk region as well.”