The four military personnel, including the officers, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss developments on the battlefield.
Russian military bloggers have also reported heavy fighting in the Zaporizhia region, a section of the front line that has long been seen as a potential location for a new Ukrainian campaign.
By cutting south across the flat fields of Zaporizhia, Kiev’s forces could aim to sever the “land bridge” between mainland Russia and occupied Crimea, cutting off crucial Russian supply lines. They could also try to liberate the city of Melitopol, established by Russia as the capital of the occupied region, and Innerhodar, where the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is located.
As Ukraine’s southern combat zone is flooded, the battlefield has been redrawn
Valeriy Chershin, a spokesman for Ukrainian military units located across most of the eastern and southern front lines, confirmed “more activity” in the Zaporizhia region, but added that he “won’t say it’s anything major.” In an interview, Chershin said that in general, Ukrainian forces in the Zaporozhye region “are still in a defensive operation.”
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said in recent days that they will not make an official announcement of the start of the counter-offensive, and that there will not be a single action that marks its beginning.
In the interview, Sherchin also described “small counter-offensive activities” on a local scale, in particular fighting for the village of Velika Novoselka in the Donetsk region east of the Zaporozhye region. He added that the Russians had intensified their bombing in the Zaporozhye region in anticipation of a possible Ukrainian attack.
The offensive is expected to unfold over months and will be a pivotal test of the US-led strategy to prepare Ukrainian forces with the most advanced methods of warfare.
Igor Strelkov, a former Russian security service officer who played a brutal role in Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and then its war in the eastern Donbass region, said on Thursday that it was clear that the Ukrainian counter-offensive had begun.
“Maybe we can now reliably say that the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine began five or six days ago,” Strelkov wrote in Telegram, providing an analysis of troop movements in various hot spots along the front.
Ukraine’s flood victims say occupying Russians don’t send help
The counterattack is escalating as the crisis deepens in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, where the breach of the Kakhovka Dam and Russian-controlled hydroelectric power plant on Tuesday sent water rushing over the banks of the Dnieper River and into dozens of residential communities in Ukrainian- and Russian-controlled territory. The great flood redrew the battlefield in that part of the Southern Front.
In the Zaporozhye region, Ukraine will face fierce obstacles. Russian forces spent months fortifying the area with mines and trenches. A member of the brigade involved in the attack in the southeast described “constant heavy fighting”.
“It’s very difficult on the field,” he said Thursday morning. Our artillery and aviation are working, but the Russians are working too. It is difficult for us and for them. The armed forces are advancing. But not as fast as we wanted.”
Isobel Koshio in Kiev, Ukraine; Natalia Abakumova in Riga, Latvia; Francesca Appel in London contributed to this report.
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