Ukrainian military announced on Saturday that they had captured the strategic bastion of Lyman in occupied eastern Ukraine, a humiliating loss that caused a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin to demand the use of low-grade nuclear bombs.
Putin proclaimed the annexation of four Ukrainian districts, including Donetsk, where Lyman is located, and placed them under Russia's nuclear umbrella in a ceremony that Kyiv and the West decried as an unjustified farce.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy director of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office, shared a video on social media in which Ukrainian soldiers made the assertion. The video was filmed outside the town council building in the center of Lyman.
"Dear Ukrainians - today the armed forces of Ukraine ... liberated and took control of the settlement of Lyman, Donetsk region," one of the soldiers said. After the film, a group of Ukrainian soldiers remove Russian flags from the building's roof and replace them with a Ukrainian flags.
Earlier in the day, the Russian defense ministry claimed it was withdrawing troops from the area "in connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement"
Russia had utilized Lyman as a transport and logistics hub for its activities in the northern Donetsk region. Its seizure is Ukraine's most significant military victory since last month's rapid counteroffensive in the northern Kharkiv region.
Zelensky vowed further fast victories in the Russian-dominated Donbas, which includes the Donetsk and Luhansk areas.
"The number of Ukrainian flags in Donbas has surged during the past week. There will be even more in one week "he vowed in a nighttime video message.
He also reported that Ukrainian forces had captured the settlement of Torske, located on the vital route leading east from Lyman.
Recent triumphs have enraged Putin's allies such as Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechnya region in southern Russia, who felt obligated to speak out.
Before Zelenskiy spoke, Kadyrov stated on Telegram, "In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,"
Other high leaders, such as former president Dmitry Medvedev, have hinted that Russia may need to use nuclear weapons, but Kadyrov's call was the most urgent and emphatic.
Putin stated last week that he was not kidding when he indicated he was willing to protect Russia's "territorial integrity" with all possible measures. On Friday, he made it clear that this also extended to the newly claimed regions.
The United States has stated that it would respond forcefully to any use of nuclear weapons.
Before the assault, Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine's eastern military, stated that Russia had between 5,000 and 5,500 men in Lyman, but the number encircled could be lower.
The battlefield claims of neither side could be independently verified.
Colonel-General Alexander Lapin, the commander supervising Lyman, should be stripped of his awards and transferred to the front, according to Kadyrov. Kadyrov stated that he had informed army leader General Valery Gerasimov of an impending catastrophe.
"The general assured me he had no doubts about Lapin's talent for leadership and did not think a retreat was possible," he claimed.
Ukraine asserts that capturing Lyman will allow it to march into the Luhansk area, whose complete conquest was announced by Moscow at the beginning of July following weeks of arduous advances.
"Lyman is crucial because it represents the next stage in the liberation of the Ukrainian Donbas. It is a chance to continue on to Kreminna and Sievierodonetsk, and it is psychologically crucial "Cherevatyi remarked.
Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 in what it called a "special military operation" to demilitarize its neighbor, the Donbas has been a primary focus.
Putin declared the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern areas of Kherson and Zaporizhia to be Russian territory on Friday, encompassing around 18% of the entire land area of Ukraine.
Ukraine and its Western partners deemed Russia's action to be unlawful. Kyiv pledged to continue liberating its territory from Russian forces and stated that it would not engage in peace negotiations with Moscow as long as Putin was in office.
Friday, Zelenskiy's advisor Mykhailo Podolyak criticized the Kremlin event proclaiming the annexation.
"Now, Russian troops are withdrawing from yet another vital city, while propagandists search for the perpetrators. Reality can be painful if one lives in a fantasy world "Podolyak sent a tweet.
Ben Hodges, a retired U.S. general, stated that a Russian loss at Lyman would be a tremendous political and military embarrassment for Vladimir Putin.
"This puts in bright lights that his claim is illegitimate and cannot be enforced," he said.