Ukraine says counteroffensive has liberated seven villages in southeast


MUKACHEVO, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops pressing a difficult counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces have liberated a string of seven villages in the embattled Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions over the past week, officials in Kyiv said Monday.

If confirmed, the gains would represent modest but politically significant territorial advances as the counterattack, which began in earnest last week, intensifies across Ukraine’s southeast.

Four of the villages — Neskuchne, Storozheve, Blahodatne and Makarivka — are located south of Velyka Novosilka, one of the counteroffensive’s key starting points, close to the border of the Zaporizhzhia region.

The villages are clustered on a roughly 5½-mile stretch of road leading south into occupied territory heavily fortified by Russia. They are about 80 miles north of the long-occupied city of Mariupol, which was nearly destroyed by heavy Russian bombing last year.

The other communities — Lobkove, Levadne and Novodarivka — are in Zaporizhzhia.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar also claimed Monday that Ukraine had retaken more than six square miles near the destroyed eastern city of Bakhmut, which recently fell to Russia after more than eight months of fierce and bloody fighting.

“The battles are tough, but our movement is there, and that is very important,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday in his evening address to the nation. “Although the weather these days is unfavorable — the rains make our task more difficult — but still the strength of our soldiers gives results.”

Ukrainian officials made no mention of the losses incurred as part of the advance, though they have warned recently that their forces are likely to suffer high casualties as they try to claw back land from Moscow. The focus on such a small stretch of territory underscored the difficult nature of the counteroffensive and the likelihood that gains, if any, would be measured in minute increments.

Putin wanted Kherson. Now, residents say Russia is trying to destroy it.

On Sunday, the Ukrainian Volunteer Army posted a video in which its members posed with their battalion colors in the village of Neskuchne. The Washington Post could not independently verify the video, or others purporting to show the liberations.

A video from Ukraine’s 35th Separate Marine Brigade on Monday reportedly showed its forces raising the Ukrainian flag and marching through the village of Storozheve, while the 68th Separate Jaeger Brigade showed footage said to be from Blahodatne.

“The operation began at about 5 a.m.,” a soldier, identified only by his call sign “Doc,” said in the Storozheve video. “The enemy resisted with its artillery in the beginning. We managed to take the initiative into our own hands and retake the village house by house.”

Rob Lee, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a military expert, said that although “the villages by themselves are not significant,” the announcements indicated that Ukrainian forces were “making progress.”

“I think it’s going about as it should have been expected,” Lee said. “But it’s going to be a tough fight given that they’re going into prepared defensive positions and Russia’s been preparing these lines for several months.”

The rate of attrition on both sides will be a key factor as the campaign unfolds, Lee said. “This is going to be a long offensive,” he predicted, pointing out that Ukrainian forces’ offensive to take back the southern city of Kherson started in August, but “they made their first substantive gains in October.”

Political risks rise for Putin as Ukraine’s counteroffensive begins

Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed in a statement to have repelled attacks in the Donetsk region, beginning in Vremivka — the first town along the road south from Velyka Novosilka.

“Decisive actions of defending units, artillery fire and heavy firing systems of the Vostok Group of Forces repelled three enemy attacks from the direction of [Velyka Novosilka],” the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Meanwhile, emergency operations continued Monday in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam last week. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for attacking the dam.

Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the regional military administration, said that water continues to recede, though 32 towns remain inundated in Ukrainian-controlled territory on the west and northern banks of the Dnieper River and more than 2,700 people had been evacuated.

In Russian-occupied areas to the east and south, 14 towns were still affected, Prokudin added, saying the situation there “remains critical.


Attacks on bridges or dams since Feb. 24, 2022

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Annexed by

Russia

in 2014

Note: Data is through Feb. 17. Each event may include multiple

individual strikes. Some events may not be included in the map

due to data availability.

Source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

SAMUEL GRANADOS / THE WASHINGTON POST

Attacks on bridges or dams since Feb. 24, 2022

Area held by

Russia-backed

separatists

since 2014

Annexed by

Russia

in 2014

Note: Data is through June 7. Each event may include multiple individual strikes.

Some events may not be included in the map due to data availability.

Source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

SAMUEL GRANADOS / THE WASHINGTON POST

Last week, video and photographic imagery indicated that Ukraine’s military suffered significant losses of equipment — including some Leopard battle tanks recently acquired from its Western allies.

At a meeting in Paris on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda discussed the question of NATO membership for Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials and some European countries have pushed for a clearer path to membership ahead of an annual NATO summit in July, while other countries prefer to focus on short- and medium-term security support — leaving the membership debate for later.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration and NATO allies have been sketching out plans for military support beyond the current offensive, with talk of bilateral or multilateral security pacts.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday he would refrain from “providing an armchair assessment of this offensive.”

“We’re going to stay focused on making sure that Ukraine can succeed on the battlefield,” he added.

Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, and Emily Rauhala and Beatriz Ríos in Brussels contributed to this report.



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