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Ukrainian troops take full control of Lyman while Russian media ramps up recriminations

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Sunday that the strategic city of Lyman, a logistics hub on the northern end of Donetsk province, "is cleared completely" of Russian forces who had occupied it for seven months. Russia's Defense Ministry said late Saturday that Russian forces were evacuating to avoid encirclement by Ukrainian troops, and Ukrainian soldiers and police swept the forests and towns around Lyman on Sunday in search of fleeing Russian soldiers.

"Not all the Russians made it out," The Wall Street Journal reports from Lyman. "Burning Russian vehicles and sprawled bodies of dead Russian soldiers remain on the roadsides outside the city." The Russian forces "probably experienced heavy casualties as it withdrew along the only road out of the town still in Russian hands," Britain's Ministry of Defense said Sunday.

The loss of Lyman was an operational blow to the Kremlin's hopes of keeping control of Russian-occupied areas of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow would "illegally annex" those regions, Russia's retreat "also represents a significant political setback," Britain's Defense Ministry adds. "The withdrawal has led to a further wave of public criticism of Russia's military leadership by senior officials."

In one "unusually candid article published Sunday," The New York Times reports, a war correspondent wrote in the prominent Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that Russian generals made the decision to retreat from Lyman after "the risk of encirclement or shameful imprisonment became too great," and the remaining Russian soldiers with "empty eyes" had barely escaped with their lives. 

Putin's unpopular draft had already "exposed the general Russian public to the consequences of the defeat around Kharkiv," shattering "the Kremlin's efforts to portray the war as limited and generally successful," and the loss of Lyman "has generated even more confusion and negative reporting" than "the Russian withdrawals from Kyiv, Snake Island, or even Kharkiv," the Institute for the Study of War assess. The criticism has even made it onto Russian TV channels, which is "daring and highly unusual for the Kremlin's propaganda shows," and it brought critiques of Russia's war performance "into the homes of average Russians through official Kremlin channels for the first time."