Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to Izium, one of the many settlements recently liberated by Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region. While there, he met with the victorious troops took part in the flag raising and surveyed some of the damages. “Earlier, when we looked up, we always looked for the blue sky. Today, when we look up, we are looking for only one thing – the flag of Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy said about 8,000 sq km (3,100 square miles) have been liberated so far, apparently all in the north-eastern region of Kharkiv. “Stabilisation measures” had been completed in about half of that territory, Zelenskiy said, “and across a liberated area of about the same size, stabilisation measures are still ongoing”. Ukraine now has set its sights on freeing all territory occupied by invading Russian forces.
While the mood is joyous over the recent gains the Ukrainian military, officials understand the challenges that lie ahead in the newly liberated territories – many of which had been living under Russian occupation for almost the entirety of the invasion. Much of the city of Izium was destroyed, and the people were terrorised. Investigators are now beginning to look into possible war crimes committed by Russian soldiers.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych held out the prospects of building on the gains made over the weekend in the Kharkiv region by moving on the eastern province of Luhansk. “There is now an assault on Lyman and there could be an advance on Siversk,” Arestovych said. The pro-Russian leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic denied the claims and said in a video post that Lyman remains in their hands, saying “the situation has been stabilised.”
However, the frontline in eastern Ukraine is approaching the borders of territory claimed by the self-proclaimed pro-Russian separatist Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) according to Andrey Marochko, a senior LPR military commander.
The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces warned that Russian forces were continuing to loot as they withdrew from occupied territories. On a stretch of highway heading into Russian territory, Ukrainian officials spotted civilian vehicles with licence plates from the Kharkiv region, driven by Russian military and weighed down with looted belongings. In the south, there were reports of Russian occupants breaking the gates of private garages and taking cars, as well as removing furniture.
Russia has probably used Iranian-made uncrewed aerial vehicles in Ukraine for the first time, Britain’s defence intelligence said on Wednesday, after Kyiv reported downing one of the UAVs – a Shahed-136 – on Tuesday. The device is a “one-way attack” weapon, the MoD said, and has been used in the Middle East. The shooting down of the drone near the frontline in Ukraine suggests that Russia is using the weapons as a tactical weapon rather than a strategic one targeting military installations deeper into Ukrainian territory.
Russian forces have ordered that the mobile Internet be cut off in the Russian-occupied Luhansk oblast Wednesday, Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk oblast, said on Telegram.
One person was killed and a number more injured by Russian shelling in the Zaporizhzhia oblast in southern Ukraine over the past two days, according to the regional state administration.
Five civilians were killed and 16 more wounded in Bakhmut in the Donetsk oblast yesterday, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk oblast. The region has seen heavy fighting in the past day, Kyrylenko said, with Russian troops attacking infrastructure “with tanks, mortars and artillery”.
Western sanctions on Russia are having a real impact and are there to stay, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Wednesday, stressing that the European Union’s solidarity with Ukraine would be “unshakeable”. “This is the time for us to show resolve, not appeasement,” she said. “We are in it for the long haul.”
Von der Leyen also sent a strong signal over European Union expansion, saying the European Union is not complete without Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and western Balkan countries. “You are part of our family, you are the future of our union. Our union is not complete without you,” she said.
Russian oil and gas revenues have fallen to their lowest for almost a year, despite a big rise in prices.
Pope Francis, at a summit of religious leaders in Kazakhstan, has said that God does not guide religions towards war in what appears to be an implicit criticism of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who has backed the invasion of Ukraine.
US president Joe Biden said it was hard to tell if Ukraine had reached a turning point in the six-month war. Asked about the situation on Tuesday, he said: “It’s clear the Ukrainians have made significant progress,” he said. “But I think it’s going to be a long haul.”
The White House said the United States is likely to announce a new military aid package for Ukraine in “coming days”.
The Kremlin has given a lukewarm reaction to the draft set of security guarantees published by the Ukrainian President’s office Tuesday. Co-authored by the former Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and Volodomyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andrey Yermak, the report said Ukraine’s allies should commit to legally binding large-scale weapons transfers and multi-decade investment in the country’s defences, as an alternative to Kyiv’s long-term aspirations to join Nato. On Wednesday Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia viewed the document negatively, saying the idea of Ukraine joining Nato was “the main threat to Russia”. He said “It once again emphasises the relevance and urgent need for us to ensure our own security and our own national interests.”
Russia-Ukraine at a glance: what we know on day 203 of the invasion
Volodymyr Zelenskiy says around 8,000 sq km have been liberated in counteroffensive in north-east Ukraine
Martin Belam is the Guardian's senior social reporter in London