Rumours that Kyiv’s long-awaited counterattack is ready to begin are being fed by the heavy fighting that is taking place today in southeast Ukraine.
In the heaviest fight since Kyiv started its campaign to liberate captured regions, Ukrainian artillery “came in waves,” according to Russian sources operating in southern Zaporizhia.
Russians were told to depart the nearby occupied city of Berdyansk after hearing blasts and a major fire starting at a nearby facility.
‘At the moment, active combat is ongoing in the region between Orekhovo and Tokmak,’ Vladimir Rogov, an official with Russian occupation authorities, said, referring to a locality known in southern Ukraine as Orikhiv.
Alexander Sladkov, a correspondent for Russian media, also wrote of ‘intense fighting’ in the area on Telegram.
It comes as Ukraine sent Western tanks into battle for the first time in a major assault on the southern front that marked the launch of its long-awaited counter-offensive.
US officials confirmed the engagements in the Zaporizhzhia region yesterday appeared to be the start of a main thrust.
The heavy fighting resulted in losses on both sides, with US officials noting the Russians had put up ‘stiff resistance’.
Last night, the Ukrainian government offered scant details about the long awaited counter-offensive.
But Deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar confirmed fighting was taking place in southern Ukraine: ‘Battles continue for Velyka Novosilka in the Novopavlovsk direction,’ she said.
‘In the Orikhiv area, the enemy is already on the defensive.’
However, Maliar also downplayed the scale of the fighting in the south, and said the east was Ukraine’s real target.
‘The situation is tense in all areas of the front line. The east is the epicentre,’ she wrote on Telegram.
‘The enemy continues to concentrate its main efforts on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Maryinka directions’, she added, referring to eastern cities where fighting has been raging for months.
President Volodymyr Zelensky also hailed what he described as ‘results’ in heavy fighting in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
‘There is very heavy fighting in Donetsk region,’ President Zelensky said in his daily video message, following a visit to the areas affected by the breach of the Nova Kakhovka power dam.
‘But there are results and I am grateful to those who achieved these results. Well done in Bakhmut. Step by step.’
However, some Russian sources are sceptical of Kyiv’s claims that the main thrust of the counterattack has begun in earnest.
Pro-Kremlin blogger Zapiski Veterana (Notes of a Veteran) said: ‘I think we can already talk about the beginning of Ukraine’s long-announced offensive.
‘There hasn’t been such movement on the front for a long time. The Ukrainians came in waves.’
The angle of the attacks suggested Ukraine’s objective priority was to piece through Russia’s defences to reach the cities of Tokmak, Melitopol and Berdyansk on the Black Sea coast and cut off the Crimean peninsula.
Veterana added: ‘All their [Ukrainian] forces are being thrown forward. The enemy has managed to seize several heights but they did not manage a deep breakthrough.’
A third advance around the heavily bombarded settlement of Bakhmut also took place yesterday, with Ukrainian sources saying its troops had gained a mile of ground around the city.
Unverified photos from last night appeared to show a German-made Leopard tank which had been destroyed by the Russians.
Russian reports also claim a column of tanks was destroyed at Novopokrovka in Zaporizhia, although these claims are also unconfirmed.
On a visit to Kherson today Volodymyr Zelensky criticised the international response to the incident, in particular the United Nations which is responsible for providing flood relief.
The Ukrainian president praised rescue workers for their exhaustive efforts and said today’s priority was to ‘protect lives’.
He said to them: ‘You are going through this difficult ordeal now. We will help you and rebuild everything which needs to be restored. I thank you and wish you good health.’