UKRAINE has declared victory in the Battle of Kharkiv as Vladimir Putin's forces are driven back from the country's second city.
Kharkiv's mayor, Ihor Terekhov, said residents are starting to return - and the battle has been won.
"There were no Russian troops inside the city of Kharkiv. Russian tanks and armoured fighting vehicles were eliminated by Ukrainian fighters," he told the BBC.
"And due to the efforts of the Kharkiv territorial defence and Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Russians have now withdrawn far from the city – towards the border."
The victory means Ukrainian artillery can now threaten the town of Vovchansk, which has a key highway and rail line supplying forces in Donbas.
However, the retreating Russians are said to be focused on guarding supply routes and are continuing to launch artillery and airstrikes across Donetsk in a bid to run down Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications, Ukraine's general staff said.
The Institute for the Study of War - a Washington-based think tank that declared the battle won for Ukraine - said President Volodymyr Zelensky's forces prevented Russian troops from encircling Kharkiv and pushed them out from surrounding areas.
Regional Govenor Oleh Sinegubov said via Telegram that there had been no shelling in the city over the past day.
He added that Ukraine launched a counter offensive near the strategic town of Izyum, currently held by Russia.
Fighting was also fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, where Ukraine has launched counterattacks but failed to halt Russias advance, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst.
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"The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided - there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers," he said.
Putin's troops suffered heavy losses when Ukraine launched a surprise attack that destroyed a Russian pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the Donets river in Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said.
Russia's second and third missions to cross the river also apparently ended in costly failure, with fresh satellite images showing another sunken pontoon bridge and half a dozen abandoned military vehicles.
In total, Russia lost more than 70 tanks, trucks and armoured cars in four days of attempts to cross the river, according to Ukrainian investigative site InformNapalm.
The withdrawal comes almost a month after Putin's depleted and exhausted forces were forced to retreat from Kyiv and later beaten back from Mykolaiv by a rag-tag band of territorial defence troops and civilians following "huge" losses.
A liberated Kharkiv is major victory for Ukraine and signals a new long-term phase of the war, the country's defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said.
Meanwhile, President Zelenskyy said his forces were driving out the invaders and renewed calls for Europe and other allies to step up their support.
He said that no one today can predict how long the war will last and that any outcome will depend on the support provided by Europe and other allies.