Ukraine claims to have recaptured four villages from Russia in what would be the first territorial gains of its long-awaited counteroffensive.
About a week after Ukrainian forces began advancing at various points along the frontline, Kyiv said it liberated three villages on Sunday in the southeast of the country. Unverified footage showed Kyiv’s forces hoisting the Ukrainian flag at a building in the village of Blahodatne in Donetsk region and posing with their unit’s flag in the adjacent village of Neskuchne.
Then on Monday a photo shared by Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar showed soldiers hoisting the country’s yellow and blue flag at what she claimed was the village of Storozheve in Donetsk, as she thanked the 35th Separate Brigades of Marines for liberating the settlement.
Ukraine also claims to have recaptured Makarivka, the next village to the south of Blahodatne, and advanced between 300m and 1,500m at two points on the southern front, Ms Maliar said in a statement.
Storozheve is located between Blahodatne and Neskuchne.
“No positions were lost in the directions where our forces are on the defensive,” Ms Maliar added.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that Ukrainian “counteroffensive and defensive operations” were taking place.
And Russian president Vladimir Putin appeared to confirm on Friday that a Ukrainian military push was well underway, while claiming it had failed to breach his forces’ defensive lines and suffered “significant losses”.
Kyiv has kept information of its counteroffensive secret and urged Ukrainians not to disclose any information that could compromise the operation.
The video from Blahodatne showed Ukrainian troops inside a heavily damaged building as the sound of artillery rumbled in the distance.
“We’re kicking the enemy out from our native lands. It’s the warmest feeling there is. Ukraine is going to win, Ukraine above everything,” an unidentified soldier said in the video on Facebook.
Russia said at least twice this week that it had repelled Ukrainian attacks close by the nearby settlement of Velyka Novosilka.
The occupied southeast is seen as a likely priority for Kyiv’s forces that may aim to sever Russia’s land bridge to the annexed peninsula of Crimea and split Russian forces in half.
Makarikva is around 90km (56 miles) northwest of the city of Mariupol, which lies on the Sea of Azov on the southern rim of the land bridge. Russia captured the major city last year after besieging and bombarding it for several weeks.
Russia has built vast fortifications across occupied territory to prepare for a Ukrainian counterattack using thousands of troops trained and equipped by the West.
In her statement, Ms Maliar also said Ukrainian forces were continuing assault operations in the east near the devastated city of Bakhmut and had advanced 250m (820ft) near the Berkhivka Reservoir.
Russia said it captured the city of Bakhmut last month after the bloodiest and longest battle of the war, but Kyiv has said it has been regaining ground on the flanks of the city.
The general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said separately that a motorised infantry brigade had advanced on the front line around the eastern city Avdiivka in recent days and captured a Russian position, but it provided no further details.
In other developments, the Ukranian president said on Sunday that work has already started on an investigation by the International Criminal Court of the breach of the Kakhovka dam.
“Representatives of the International Criminal Court have visited Kherson region in recent days,” Mr Zelensksy said in his nightly video address.
“On the very first day after the disaster, the general prosecutor’s office sent a corresponding request to the International Criminal Court concerning an investigation of this disaster and the work has already begun.”
Mr Zelensky said it was important that international legal experts saw the aftermath of the disaster, including incidents of shelling of flooded areas. Officials said three people were killed on Sunday in Russian shelling of boats carrying evacuees.
The president said Ukrainian rescue teams had evacuated about 4,000 residents from affected zones, including areas on the Russian-occupied east bank of the Dnipro River.
Additional reporting by agencies
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