Ukrainian forces recaptured swaths of territory from Russian control in the Kharkiv region.
Russian soldiers tried to flee in any way they could, The Washington Post and Financial Times said.
Some Russian soldiers stole bicycles, while others disguised themselves as locals, the reports said.
Russian soldiers dropped their rifles and fled villages disguised as locals after Ukraine recaptured hundreds of square miles of territory in the Kharkiv region, according to multiple reports.
Ukrainian forces, backed by increasingly powerful Western weapons, have recaptured the majority of the eastern Kharkiv region in a surprise counteroffensive.
Much of the region had been occupied by Russian troops in the initial offensive beginning in February that brought Russian troops within a few kilometers of key cities like Kharkiv and Kyiv.
The pace of the counter-attack caught Russian soldiers off guard, according to local residents in Zaliznychne, a tiny village 37 miles east of Kharkiv, who spoke to The Washington Post.
Half of them fled in their vehicles in the first hours of the offensive, local resident Olena Matvienko told The Post. Those who were abandoned, she said, began to panic and tried to flee in any way they could.
“They came into our houses to take clothes so the drones wouldn’t see them in uniforms,” Matvienko told The Post. “They took our bicycles. Two of them pointed guns at my ex-husband until he handed them his car keys.”
Matvienko told The Post that soldiers “just dropped rifles on the ground,” and left behind crates of ammunition as well as vehicles including a Russian tank that was loaded on a flatbed truck.
Petro Kuzyk, a Ukrainian commander who took part in the counter-offensive in the southeastern corner of Kharkiv province, told The Financial Times that Russian soldiers left in such a hurry that meals were still set out when Ukraine’s forces arrived.
“We hoped for success but didn’t expect such cowardly behavior,” Kuzyk told the FT. “They abandoned their tanks and equipment … even grabbed bicycles to escape.”
“That the Russian army is completely degraded made our work easier; they fled like Olympic sprinters,” he said.
Ukraine has repeatedly said that it aims to retake all of its land taken by Russia, including the Crimea peninsula which was annexed in 2014.
In his Saturday night address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said around 1,250 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of Ukrainian territory has already been liberated by Ukrainian forces.
Insider cannot independently verify Ukraine’s claims of the area recaptured, though press photographs have shown Ukrainian soldiers apparently uncontested in areas officials said were retaken.
“These days, the Russian army is showing its best — showing its back. And, in the end, it is a good choice for them to run away. There is and will be no place for the occupiers in Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense confirmed that its forces were retreating from some areas in the Kharkiv region, the BBC reported.