Each week we round up must-reads from our coverage of the war in Ukraine, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.
Putin is mobilizing the reserves
Wednesday brought news that Vladimir Putin has decided to mobilize 300,000 reservists, in a sign that the Russian president understands that his troops inside Ukraine are flagging. In a dramatic escalation that put the country’s population and economy on war-time footing, Putin also threatened nuclear retaliation, saying Russia has “plenty of weapons to respond” to what he called Western threats on Russian soil – and added that he was not bluffing.
Putin said in a televised address that Russia’s first mobilization since World War II was a direct response to the threat posed by the West, which “wants to destroy our country”, and claimed that the West had tried to “turn the Ukrainian people into cannon fodder”. .
His statement was met with incredulity in the West. Joe Biden and fellow leaders reacted angrily to Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons and vowed to maintain support for Ukraine.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has also rejected Putin’s moves to escalate the war, saying his country’s forces will continue their counteroffensive, giving Russia no breathing space to consolidate and dig in on Ukrainian soil.
In Russia, the coalition sparked protests that led to more than 1,300 arrests and sent many Russians to the border. Andrew Roth reported on feelings inside Russia, where, suddenly, the war had come home.
Analyzing the developments, Defense and Security Secretary Dan Sabbagh said the consolidation is a measure that would take months to have any meaningful military impact, while Pjotr Saur wrote that while the Russian leader has previously flirted with the dire possibility of using nuclear weapons, experts say His latest statement went even further, raising fears of an unprecedented nuclear disaster around the world.
On Thursday, Andrew Roth wrote about the first day of the draft in Russia: Summons sent out to eligible men at midnight. School teachers have been pressured to hand over draft notices. Men are given one hour to pack their belongings and attend the draft centre. Women cry as their husbands and sons are sent to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine. While others escaped.
In New York, Patrick Wintour explains that Turkey, China and India are running out of patience with Moscow.
Vladimir Putin has announced plans to mobilize 300,000 military reservists to fight in Ukraine after Russian forces lose ground. Image: Kremlin/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock
Andrew Roth reported on Tuesday that four Russian-held regions of Ukraine said they plan to hold “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation in a series of coordinated announcements that could signal the Kremlin has decided to formally annex the regions.
Moscow is betting that a formal annexation will help halt Russia’s territorial losses, a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive that has recaptured large chunks of territory in the Kharkiv region.
But Ukraine and the West have signaled they will not recognize the annexations – and Russia’s new territorial claims will not slow Ukraine to reclaim its sovereign land.
“These referendums are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international order,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
“If it transpires, the United States will never recognize Russia’s claim to any allegedly annexed part of Ukraine.”
Workers attach banners displaying pro-Russian slogans in Lysichansk, a town controlled by pro-Russian troops in the Luhansk region Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
Ukraine announced Thursday that 215 Ukrainian and foreign nationals had been released in a prisoner exchange by Russia, including fighters who led the defense of Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks that have become icons of the Ukrainian resistance.
Volodymyr Zelenskyi said in his daily address that Russia had taken 55 prisoners, including a former Ukrainian lawmaker and ally of Vladimir Putin. Moscow has not commented.
The exchange followed news that a British man threatened with execution after being captured by Russian forces during the siege of Mariupol had been freed along with four other British and five international prisoners after Saudi Arabia intervened.
Liberation of Ukrainians over occupied lives
Until last week, a portrait of Vladimir Putin hung on the wall of the mayor’s office in the town of Shevchenkov. There was a Russian flag. Around a cabinet table, a pro-Kremlin “leader”, Andrei Strezhko, meets with colleagues. There was much to discuss. One issue: a referendum on joining Russia. Another: a new fall curriculum for Shevchenkov’s two schools, minus some Ukrainian.
Strejko’s ambitious plan never materialized. As Luke Harding and Isobel Koshew report, the Ukrainian armed forces launched a surprise counter-offensive on September 8. They quickly retook part of the northeastern Kharkiv region, including Shevchenkov. Most of the residents welcomed the soldiers with hugs and kisses. Strejko disappeared. He is believed to have fled to the Russian border with other accomplices.
Shevchenkov’s acting military administrator, Andriy Konashavich, pointed to the chair the mock-mayor sat in the council building. On the wall was a portrait of Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko, who gave the city its name. What happened to Putin’s photo? “We tore it up,” Konasavich said. Why was there no photo of President Zelensky? “Presidents come and go. Shevchenko is eternal,” he replied.
Konashavich described Strezko as a man who did not hide his pro-Moscow views. The Russians entered Shevchenkov – population 7,000 – on February 25, beginning the offensive. Strejko got the job after tearing out the Ukrainian trident and stamping on his leg. A monument to Ukrainian soldiers who fought against Russia in Donetsk was also demolished in 2014.
The Russians promised the residents that they would stay in the city forever.
Andriy Konashavich outside the administrative building in Shevchenkov, Ukraine. Photo: Daniel Cardey/The Guardian
Horror in Izium
As the five-month ordeal of the Ukrainian city comes to an end, evidence from dead bodies and survivors could be another Bucha.
Standing in a daze, Maksim Maksimov showed Luke Harding where he had been tortured with electric shocks. Russian soldiers took him from his cell in the basement of the Izium police station. They put him in an office chair and attached a crocodile clip to his finger. It was connected by cable to an old Soviet military field telephone.
And then it begins. A soldier cranks the handle, turning it faster and faster. It sent a painful throbbing through Maksimov’s body. “I broke down. They pulled me straight. I had a hood over my head. I couldn’t see anything. My legs went numb. I was unable to hear in my left ear,” he recalled. “Then they did it again. I passed. I was back in my cell about 40 minutes later.”
The Russian army captured Thana in April. This followed a month-long battle with Ukrainian forces based on a hill next to the Soviet war memorial in Izium. According to 50-year-old publisher Maksimov, the soldiers arrested anyone suspected of having pro-Ukrainian views. He stayed behind to look after his elderly mother.
Members of the emergency services discovered a body in a mass grave in Izium. Photo: Daniel Carde/The Observer
‘They won’t attack, will they?’ Panic has increased in Russian cities
Andrew Roth writes that the war in southern Russia’s Belgorod, just kilometers from the border with Ukraine, has become impossible to ignore. Russian troops are now roaming the streets, retreating from Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Air defenses out overhead several times a day. The city is once again filled with refugees. And, on the border, Russian and Ukrainian soldiers stand within sight of each other.
Three Russian soldiers from Ossetia wander one evening on an unfamiliar street next to the Grand Transfiguration Cathedral. They seem unsteady on their feet, perhaps drunk or tired. And they are looking for a place to eat.
Since February, they say, they have fought in Ukraine as part of an invasion force. They were stationed in the village of Veliki Prokhodi, just north of Kharkiv, when the emergency signal to return to Russia came last week.
“What can we say? An order is an order. We had no choice,” said one wearing a hat inlaid with jade, a strategic symbol adopted in Russia as a patriotic symbol of war support.
As the Russian front in Kharkiv crumbled and Ukrainians who chose the Russian side fled to the border, a dark thought crept into the minds of ordinary people here: that the war might enter Russia.
When asked where they were going, the soldiers said they did not know. But perhaps, they think, they will be sent back south to “protect the border”.
Child refugees from Kharkiv arrive at a camp in Belgorod, Russia. Photo: AP