The Ukrainian army launched a counter-offensive to drive out the Russian invaders

KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military has launched a long-awaited counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces, opening a critical phase in a war aimed at restoring Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and securing Western support in its fight against Moscow’s dominance.

Ukrainian troops, including special assault units armed with Western weapons and trained in NATO tactics, intensified their strikes on front-line positions in the country’s southeast Wednesday night, four of the country’s armed forces, launching a significant push into the Russian occupation. Territory.

Four military personnel, including officers, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss battlefield developments.

Russian military bloggers reported heavy fighting in Zaporizhzhia, a part of the front line long seen as the site of a new Ukrainian campaign.

By cutting through Zaporizhia’s flat fields to the south, Kyiv’s forces could aim to sever critical Russian supply lines, severing the “land bridge” between mainland Russia and the occupied Crimean peninsula. They may try to liberate the city of Melitopol, which Russia has established as the occupied capital of the region, and Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is located.

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Valeriy Shershen, a spokesman for Ukrainian military units located along much of the eastern and southern front lines, confirmed “more activity” in the Zaporizhzhia region, but said he “can’t say it’s a big deal.” In the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukrainian forces are generally “still in a defensive position,” Shershen said in an interview.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said in recent days that they will not make an official announcement that a counteroffensive has begun, and that no action would signal its start.

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In the interview, Shershen described “small counterattacks” at the local level, specifically the fight for the village of Velika Novosilka in the Donetsk region, east of the Zaporizhia region. The Russians have stepped up shelling of the Zaporizhzhia region in anticipation of a Ukrainian attack.

The offensive is expected to unfold in a few months and will serve as a key test of the US-led strategy to equip Ukrainian forces with more advanced combat tactics.

Igor Strelkov, a former officer in Russia’s security service who played a brutal role in Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, said on Thursday that it was clear Ukraine’s counteroffensive had begun in its war in the eastern Donbass region.

“Perhaps, we can now reliably say that the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine began five-six days ago,” Strelkov wrote in Telegram, analyzing the movements of troops in different hot spots on the front.

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The counteroffensive is intensifying as the crisis builds in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, where a breach of the Russian-controlled Khakovka dam and hydroelectric power station on Tuesday sent water over the banks of the Dnieper River and into dozens of residential communities in Ukraine. Russian controlled territories. A major flood has redrawn the battleground in that area in the south.

In the Zaporizhzhia region, tough obstacles stand in Ukraine’s way. Russian forces fortified the area for months with mines and trenches. A member of a platoon that took part in the attack in the southeast described “continuous heavy fighting”.

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“It’s very difficult on the field,” he said Thursday morning. “Our artillery and air transport are working, but so are the Russians. It is difficult for us and for them. The armed forces are advancing. But not as fast as we would like.

Isobel Goshiv, in Kiev, Ukraine; Natalia Appakumova in Riga, Lativa; and Francesca Ebel in London contributed to this report.

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