The 4 army personnel, together with officers, spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to publicly talk about the battlefield developments. Ukrainian officers have stated repeatedly in latest days that they would not make an official announcement that the counteroffensive had begun, and that no single motion would mark its begin.
Russian Protection Minister Sergei Shoigu stated Ukrainian forces tried to interrupt by way of the strains of the Russian military within the Zaporizhzhia area, utilizing as much as 1,500 troops and 150 armored automobiles. His claims couldn’t be independently verified.
The Zaporizhzhia region has lengthy been seen as essentially the most strategic and certain location of the brand new Ukrainian marketing campaign, which is predicted to unfold over the course of months. The offensive will likely be a pivotal take a look at of the U.S.-led technique to arrange Ukrainian forces with extra superior techniques and weaponry. It can additionally take a look at the resolve of Russia’s beleaguered forces, that are beset by infighting and have already endured quite a few high-profile setbacks within the 15 months since President Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
By chopping south by way of the Zaporizhzhia area’s flat fields, Kyiv’s forces might intention to sever the “land bridge” between mainland Russia and occupied Crimea, chopping off essential Russian provide strains. They might additionally try to liberate the town of Melitopol, which Russia has established because the area’s occupied capital, and Enerhodar, the place the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is situated.
However fierce obstacles stand in Ukraine’s means. Russian forces have spent months fortifying the world with mines and trenches. A member of 1 brigade participating within the offensive within the southeast described “steady heavy preventing.”
“It is extremely troublesome on the battlefield,” he stated Thursday morning. “Our artillery and aviation are working, however the Russians’ are working as nicely. It’s troublesome for us and for them. The armed forces are advancing. However not as quick as we needed.”
Video launched by the Russian Ministry of Protection on Thursday and independently verified by The Washington Submit confirmed a Ukrainian tank being destroyed within the Zaporizhzhia area. An aerial photograph of the identical scene confirmed a column of no less than six Ukrainian army automobiles, which seem to incorporate German-made Leopard 2 tanks, in keeping with two army analysts.
The column got here underneath hearth from artillery shells, stated Mark Cancian, a retired marine colonel and senior adviser on the Middle for Strategic and Worldwide Research in Washington. Whereas artillery shells sometimes don’t destroy tanks, Cancian added, this shell appeared to land straight on the armored automobile.
Alexander Romanchuk, the Russian commander within the space, advised journalists Thursday that Ukrainian forces had misplaced greater than 30 tanks, together with three Leopards, and have been pressured to retreat. His claims couldn’t be independently verified.
Valeriy Shershen, a spokesman for Ukrainian army models situated throughout a lot of the jap and southern entrance line, confirmed “extra exercise” within the Zaporizhzhia area however added that he “wouldn’t say it’s one thing main.” Within the Zaporizhzhia area, Ukrainian forces are typically “nonetheless in a protection operation,” Shershen stated in an interview.
Shershen additionally described “small counteroffensive actions” of an area scale, notably the battle for Velyka Novosilka, a village within the Donetsk area simply east of Zaporizhzhia. The Russians, he added, have stepped up their shelling within the Zaporizhzhia area in anticipation of a doable Ukrainian assault.
Ukrainian Deputy Protection Minister Hanna Maliar wrote on Telegram Thursday that battles have been underway for Velyka Novosilka. Maliar additionally stated the Russians have been on the “lively protection” close to Orikhiv, a city near the entrance in Zaporizhzhia.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, stated in a Telegram assertion Thursday that “this primary two-day wave is the start of a counteroffensive” and “definitely it should proceed.”
The counteroffensive is intensifying as a disaster builds in Ukraine’s southern Kherson area, the place a breach of the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power plant Tuesday despatched water dashing over the banks of the Dnieper River and into dozens of residential communities in Ukrainian- and Russian-controlled territories.
Ukrainian authorities and volunteers evacuated Kherson residents Thursday amid shelling from Russian forces on the opposite aspect of the river. A minimum of one lady was killed and 17 individuals have been injured by incoming hearth Thursday, in keeping with Oleksandr Prokudin, Ukraine’s governor of Kherson. The injured included two employees from Ukraine’s state emergency providers.
Serhiy Kruk, head of Ukraine’s state emergency providers, reported “large artillery shelling of places the place our rescuers work” as they tried to evacuate civilians to a “seemingly secure territory.”
Earlier Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited inundated areas of Kherson, talking to evacuees and native officers. He urged worldwide humanitarian companies to ramp up their assist response and known as the scenario “completely catastrophic.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has no plans to go to flood-hit areas of Ukraine’s Kherson area, elements of that are managed by Russian forces, the Kremlin stated Thursday. Final fall, Putin declared his intention to annex the Kherson area, solely to see his troops pushed to retreat and give up territory, together with the regional capital.
The reason for the dam collapse, unleashing one of many largest reservoirs in Ukraine, stays unclear. Zelensky has accused Russia of a deliberate assault inflicting an explosion contained in the hydroelectric energy plant. Russia, which seized the dam at first of its invasion final yr, has accused Ukraine of destroying it to chop off water to occupied Crimea. However authorities in Moscow haven’t defined how Ukraine might have completed so with the plant underneath Russian management.
Ukraine’s state hydroelectric firm stated Thursday that water ranges within the Kakhovka reservoir proceed to drop. Greater than 2,198 individuals have been evacuated, together with 120 youngsters, Prokudin stated in a Telegram video Thursday; the booms of Russian shelling might be heard within the background as he spoke. Greater than two dozen communities and three,400 houses on the western, Ukrainian-controlled financial institution of the Dnieper River have been flooded.
The huge flooding has redrawn the battlefield in that a part of the southern entrance. However Natalia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian army’s southern command, stated troops haven’t been affected, as they knew how the water from the dam’s reservoir would circulate. The west financial institution is larger in elevation than the east, she stated, so the injury to Ukraine’s army has been “minimal.”
Konrad Muzyka, president of Rochan Consulting, a army evaluation agency primarily based in Poland, stated the Ukrainian offensive has been constructing for a number of weeks.
The Ukrainians, he added Thursday morning, are “getting nearer to the principle section.”
Isobel Koshiw in Kyiv, Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, Francesca Ebel in London and Joyce Lee in Washington contributed to this report.