Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said counter-offensive operations were under way against the invading Russian forces in his country, but declined to reveal additional details.
The Ukrainian leader made the comment on Saturday at a news conference in Kiev, while standing next to visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He was responding to a question about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement the previous day that Ukraine’s counter-offensive had begun and that Ukrainian forces were suffering “significant losses”.
Zelensky said that “counter-offensive and defensive operations are taking place in Ukraine. I will not talk about what stage or stage they are in.”
“I am in contact with our leaders of various directions every day,” he added, citing the names of five of Ukraine’s top military leaders.
“Everyone is positive. Pass this on to Putin.”
Major Ukrainian authorities have refrained from announcing an all-out counterattack, though some Western analysts have said fiercer fighting and reported use of reserve forces suggested this.
In his nightly video address, Zelensky provided few details while urging the troops to keep fighting.
“Thank you to everyone who occupies their positions and who advances,” he said, citing the eastern and southern fronts, where the fighting is intensifying.
The Ukrainian General Staff said its forces had repulsed hostile attacks around Bakhmut and Marinka, sites of heavy clashes in the east. She added that the Russian forces “are still suffering heavy losses that they are trying to hide.”
Deputy Defense Minister Hana Maliar made it clear on Telegram that the army will not make any statements until the positions on the battlefield become clear.
“Ask yourself this … Am I ready to receive information about the liberation of this or that city not when our troops enter it, but as soon as a stronghold is established for them?” I wrote.
Ukraine has said for months that it is planning a major counteroffensive to recapture Russian-occupied territories in the south and east. But it maintains a strict operational silence for the time being and has denied it has started the main operation.
With so few independent reports from the front lines, it was difficult to assess the state of the fighting.
Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defense said that Ukraine had carried out “significant” operations in several eastern and southern parts over the past 48 hours, with Russian defenses breached in some places.
In some areas, it is likely that Ukrainian forces have made good progress and have broken through the first line of Russian defences. In other cases, the Ukrainian advance has been slower. She also described the performance of the Russian army as patchy.
“some [Russian] Units likely conducted credible maneuver defensive operations while others withdrew in some disarray, amid mounting reports of Russian casualties as they retreated through their own minefields.
The Ukrainian counter-offensive is expected to use thousands of Western-trained and equipped forces, but Russia has erected massive fortifications in the occupied territories in preparation for it, while Kiev also lacks air supremacy.
Patrick Bury, a defense and security expert at the University of Bath in the UK, told Al Jazeera that the counterattack was likely to be a “long game” and that its initial operations were “probably the deadliest part for the Ukrainians”.
“It is very unlikely that we would see rapid advances like we saw in Kharkiv in September, for example, where the Ukrainians were able, with the help of Allied intelligence, to identify the places where the Russian units were exhausted and destroyed and basically drove past them and kept going,” he said.
“The Russians had months to prepare for major crimes and these … defensive positions with trenches and bunkers and minefields, in particular, designed to direct attackers into the killing zones.”
The Ukrainians were likely to suffer “a lot of casualties” going on the offensive.
“It’s much easier to defend: you know the floor, you know what the plan is, you know ‘I’ll hold this position until they get here and then I’ll come back here, and then another position will back me up,'” said Bury.
“It’s easier for defenders as the Ukrainians found out when they were defending last year. It’s much harder for attackers.” “Yes, you have some intelligence preparations but you don’t know exactly where everything is; Everything is new to you, the terrain as you shoot etc. as you try to advance; So it is more difficult for them.
The south is seen as a key strategic priority for a Ukrainian wave that could aim to regain control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and cut off Russia’s land bridge to occupied Crimea on the Black Sea, splitting Russian forces.
The fighting there has sparked renewed interest after the Russian-controlled Kakhovka Dam along the Dnipro River was destroyed on Tuesday.
Flooding from a breached dam has forced thousands to flee their homes and raised fears of humanitarian and environmental disasters. Ukraine says Russia blew up the dam. Moscow accuses Kiev of shooting it.
Trudeau, the first foreign leader to visit Ukraine since the dam breach, has offered financial, military and moral support.
He pledged C$500 million ($375 million) in new military aid, on top of more than C$8 billion ($6 billion) Canada has already provided since the war began in February 2022, and announced C$10 million ($7.5 million). ) for humanitarian assistance to respond to floods.
Trudeau said the dam collapse was a “direct result of the Russian war,” but he did not directly blame Moscow.
In other developments, the British government said it would give 16 million pounds ($20 million) in humanitarian aid to those affected by the floods.
Most of the money is channeled through international organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations. The UK also sends boats, community water filters, water pumps and waders to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Saturday that he wants to continue talking to Putin and plans to do so again “soon”.
Scholz has spoken several times on the phone with Putin since Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine last year.
The chancellor said that the basis for a “just peace” between Russia and Ukraine is the withdrawal of Russian forces.
“This needs to be understood,” he said.
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