Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday night announced that his forces had liberated two towns in southern Ukraine as they made significant progress in retaking the Russian-occupied Kherson region.
As Ukrainian counter-offensives in southern and eastern Ukraine continued on Sunday, Mr Zelensky said his forces had retaken Arkhangelske and Myrolyubivka in the Kherson area.
Earlier on Sunday, Ukraine's army cleared the key city of Lyman in eastern Ukraine of Russian soldiers and was advancing on the cities of Kreminna and Svatove, as well as the P-66 highway which connects them.
The swift advance of Ukraine’s forces raises the prospect that the Kherson region and the northern part of the Donbas could be liberated in a matter of days, in yet another crushing blow to Mr Putin.
President Zelensky declared full control over Lyman, an important logistics hub in eastern Ukraine that Russia was relying on to defend other parts of occupied territory.
“As of 1230 [0930 GMT], Lyman is fully cleared,” Mr Zelensky said in a video clip posted to his Telegram channel. Mykhailo Podolyak, his adviser, also claimed that the Russian death toll since the start of the invasion has risen to 60,000.
“Everything is according to plan, that is why [the Russian mortality] counter turned to new page,” he said.
“60,000 Russian looters have already died on Ukrainian ground. Three times as [many] injured. Time to ask the army of conscripted office workers: where did the second army of professionals go?”
Ukraine is also making steady progress in its bid to liberate Kherson in southern Ukraine, with photographs posted from the frontline showing the Ukrainian blue-and-yellow flag on display in Novovorontsovka, a nearby settlement.
A brief video clip posted to Twitter also showed a Ukrainian soldier waving the flag in the newly liberated village of Zolota Balka, also in Kherson Oblast.
In southern Ukraine, Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih came under Russian attack by a suicide drone that destroyed two storeys of a school early on Sunday, the regional governor said. The Ukrainian air force said on Sunday that it had shot down five Iranian-made drones overnight, while two others made it through air defences.
A car carrying four men who wanted to forage for mushrooms in a forest in Ukraine’s Chernihiv region struck a mine, exploding the vehicle and killing all those inside, authorities said on Sunday.
Russian attacks also targeted the city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday. And Ukraine’s military said that it carried out strikes on multiple Russian command posts, ammunition depots and two S-300 anti-aircraft batteries.
The reports of military activity couldn’t be immediately verified.
As the counter-offensive shows no signs of slowing down, Germany’s defence minister has pledged to send 16 Slovakia-produced howitzer systems to Kyiv by early next year.
The howitzers were being funded by Denmark, Norway and Germany, Christine Lambrecht told German media, as she returned from her first trip to Ukraine since the invasion began.
In the Vatican, Pope Francis reiterated his demand for Mr Putin to end the “spiral of violence and bloodshed” in Ukraine.
“My appeal goes above all to the president of the Russian Federation, begging him to stop this spiral of violence and death, even out of love for his own people,” said the Pontiff on Sunday.
“On the other side, pained by the enormous suffering of the Ukrainian population following the aggression it suffered, I address an equally hopeful appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to a serious peace proposal,” he added.
Meanwhile, Russia’s deputy prime minister said it was “technically” possible to repair the Nord Stream pipeline, referring to an attack on the pipeline that is widely suspected to have been covertly launched by Russia.
“There have never been such incidents. Of course, there are technical possibilities to restore the infrastructure, it takes time and appropriate funds. I am sure that appropriate possibilities will be found,” said Alexander Novak.
The West has said the damage to the pipeline was caused by sabotage but has not yet officially made an accusation against Russia, which, in turn, has blamed the West.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, said on Sunday that any attack on critical Nato infrastructure would be met with a “firm and united response from an angle”.
With Russian losses mounting, experts have warned that Mr Putin could resort to nuclear weapons to defend territory, an option that has already been floated by one of his Putin allies.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said that Russia should consider using “low-yield nuclear weapons” after Moscow’s troops were forced out of Lyman.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said at the Tory Party conference on Sunday he thought it “highly unlikely” that Vladimir Putin would use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict.