Putin faces rare criticism at home as Ukrainian troops reclaim ground

·2 min read

Kharkiv, Ukraine — The Ukrainian forces' dramatic advances on the battlefield, which have seen them claw back a huge swath of ground from Russia's invading troops in the south and east of the country, are starting to cause some public anger inside Russia. Ukraine's troops have recaptured an estimated 2,000 square miles of territory in recent days.

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vows to keep pushing the counterattack until his country reclaims all of its territory, Russia's Vladimir Putin is facing some rare criticism at home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via a video link at the Kremlin in Moscow, September 9, 2022. / Credit: GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via a video link at the Kremlin in Moscow, September 9, 2022. / Credit: GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty

As CBS News correspondent Debora Patta reports from Ukraine's second largest city of Kharkiv, from which Russian troops have effectively been forced out, Ukrainian forces are seizing the momentum. The yellow and blue of the national flag now flies proudly again over many liberated towns and villages across the region — only about 30 miles from the Russian border.

"Our troops were so smart," said one proud woman, welcoming the liberators. "The Russian soldiers were shocked, running away so fast. They [Ukraine's forces] planned this really well."

When Putin launched his war on Ukraine nearly seven months ago, his troops quickly seized massive chunks of territory around Kharkiv.

A map illustration based on information from the Institute of War shows ground within Ukraine that Russia occupied before the February 24, 2022 full-scale invasion, territory it seized during the current occupation of eastern parts of the country, and ground reclaimed in early September by Ukrainian forces' counteroffensive.  / Credit: CBS/Institute of War
A map illustration based on information from the Institute of War shows ground within Ukraine that Russia occupied before the February 24, 2022 full-scale invasion, territory it seized during the current occupation of eastern parts of the country, and ground reclaimed in early September by Ukrainian forces' counteroffensive. / Credit: CBS/Institute of War

But Ukrainian forces have blitzed through Russia's gains in just days, snatching back a huge swath of land.  It's been a crushing defeat for the Russian troops, depriving Moscow of its ability to resupply forces on the front lines, as it can no longer use the recently-liberated town of Izyum as a strategic logistics hub. "They left all their explosives and ammunition here," gloated one Ukrainian soldier there.

A photograph taken on September 11, 2022, shows abandoned munitions in a village on the outskirts of Izyum, Kharkiv Region, eastern Ukraine, after Russian forces were forced to withdraw from the area. / Credit: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty
A photograph taken on September 11, 2022, shows abandoned munitions in a village on the outskirts of Izyum, Kharkiv Region, eastern Ukraine, after Russian forces were forced to withdraw from the area. / Credit: JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty

As the Russian front line collapsed in Izyum, the extent of a war waged largely against Ukrainian civilians has become devastatingly clear: Hospitals and schools blown up; people killed in their own backyards. The Kremlin's attempt to spin the humiliating withdrawal in the region as a strategic "regrouping" of forces to other front lines has been ridiculed on social media — even in Russia.

Away from the battlefield, on the usually-friendly airwaves of Russia's state-run television, months of eager repetition of the Kremlin's talking points has given way recently to some hard questions for Putin about his so-called "special military operation." "It's either full scale war or we get out," former parliamentarian Boris Nadeszhdin insisted during a heated panel discussion on state TV late last week.

"You say everything's going according to plan," policy expert Viktor Olevich exclaimed in disbelief, addressing the narrative Putin has stuck to dogmatically. "You really think six months ago we planned on leaving and repelling a counteroffensive?"

Ukrainians want to believe that the tide is turning in a war that, from the onset, seemed weighted heavily in Russia's favor.

But Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that while this counteroffensive was well-planned and has clearly benefitted from an avalanche of Western military aid, it's too early to predict an outcome.

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