President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine quickly sought to capitalize politically on the Russian retreat from the crucial rail hub of Lyman, saying that it showed that Moscow’s attempt to illegally annex much of the country was an “absolute farce.”
On Friday, after Russian-appointed officials held discredited referendums in four partially occupied areas of Ukraine, the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, announced that the areas, including Donetsk Province, where Lyman is, would be absorbed into Russia and that its people would be Russian citizens “forever.”
Mr. Putin claimed the residents in those provinces had voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation, but Ukraine and its Western allies dismissed the referendums as shams, as most of the citizens had fled the region and many of those left behind were forced to cast ballots at gunpoint.
In his nightly address on Saturday, Mr. Zelensky said Moscow’s propagandists had filmed a “pseudo-referendum” in Donbas — the mineral-rich region that includes Donetsk and Luhansk, and that Russia now claims to control.
“Russia has staged a farce in Donbas. An absolute farce, which it wanted to present as an alleged referendum,” he said, adding that “now a Ukrainian flag is there.”
He then vowed that there would be more Ukrainian flags flying over the Donbas during the coming week as Kyiv’s counteroffensive inches forward.
“Our flag will be everywhere,” he said.