STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT. Ukraine on Monday said it had retaken seven villages and made small gains in a “tough” counter-offensive against Russian forces that France said could last months.
“The fighting is tough, but we are moving forward, this is very important,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a daily evening address.
“I thank our guys for every Ukrainian flag that is now returning to its rightful place in villages on the newly de-occupied territory,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the long-awaited campaign, with weapons donated by Western allies, would be underway for weeks if not months.
“We want it to be as successful as possible so that we can then start a negotiation phase in good conditions,” he said in Paris, speaking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda. Duda said the Western military alliance NATO had to “send a clear signal” about Ukraine’s desperate quest to join the bloc at its next summit on July 11 and 12 in Vilnius.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced hope that the offensive would force Russian President Vladimir Putin into talks about ending its invasion.
He said the United States was “confident that they will continue to have success.”
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Ganna Malyar said on Telegram on Monday that “seven settlements were liberated” — referring to the villages of Lobkovo, Levadne and Novodarivka in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, which houses Europe’s largest nuclear plant, now under Russian occupation.
Malyar said Ukrainian forces had also regained control of the village of Storozheve in the south of the Donetsk region, near three villages recaptured on Sunday.
“The area of the territory taken under control amounted to 90 square kilometers,” Malyar said.
The Ukrainian defense ministry meanwhile said its forces had advanced “250 to 700 meters” in the direction of the flashpoint eastern city of Bakhmut.
Russia said earlier Monday that it repelled Ukrainian attacks in the same area in the Donetsk region near Velyka Novosilka.
It also said it fought off Ukrainian attacks around the village of Levadne in Zaporizhzhia region.
The claims by Moscow and Kyiv could not by verified independently.”Ukrainian forces made visually verified advances in western Donetsk Oblast and western Zaporizhzhia Oblast, which Russian sources confirmed but sought to downplay,” the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said in an analytical note Monday.
As Ukraine announced gains, Putin visited soldiers wounded in Ukraine in a rare face-to-face meeting in a hospital in Moscow.
The Kremlin aired images of Putin wearing a dark suit and accompanied by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in military attire.
The officials stood in front of a row of men in blue hospital outfits, some of them in wheelchairs.
Russia said Monday it had repelled Ukrainian attacks around several villages in the war-battered southeast of the country, contradicting earlier claims from Kyiv’s forces that they had retaken the settlements.
The contradictory reports from Kyiv and Moscow come as analysts have said that Ukraine has launched a long-awaited counteroffensive with Western weapons in an aim to claw back territory occupied by Russian forces.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Monday that Russian forces had fought back three Ukrainian assaults near Velyka Novosilka, a town in the eastern Donetsk region where Kyiv has claimed gains.
“Decisive actions of defending units — artillery fire and heavy flamethrower systems of the Vostok grouping — repelled three enemy attacks,” it said in a statement.
The Defense Ministry also said that Russian troops had fought off Ukrainian attacks just west of Velyka Novosilka, around the nearby village of Levadne in the neighboring southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
Ukraine has over recent days claimed to have advanced deeper into Russian-controlled territory around Velyka Novosilka, announcing the capture of three villages over the weekend.
After months of building expectations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed on Saturday that a counteroffensive against Russian forces had begun.
On Sunday, Kyiv claimed to have captured three villages beyond Velyka Novosilka — Neskuchne, Blahodatne and Makarivka. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry earlier Monday said its troops had retaken another village in the same area, while Ukrainian forces said they had captured Novodarivka, a village in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia near Levadne earlier this month.
The various claims by Moscow and Kyiv could not be verified independently but analysts have said that Ukraine has likely made recent advances near Velyka Novosilka.
“Ukrainian forces made visually verified advances in western Donetsk Oblast and western Zaporizhia Oblast, which Russian sources confirmed but sought to downplay,” the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War said in an analytical note.
Moscow said Tuesday that it had captured several German Leopard tanks and U.S. Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, releasing footage showing Russian troops surveying the equipment supplied to Ukraine by Western countries.
“Leopard tanks and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. These are our trophies. Equipment of the Ukrainian armed forces in the Zaporizhzhia region,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“Servicemen of the Vostok group inspect enemy tanks and infantry fighting vehicles captured in battle.”
Kyiv has appealed to its allies in the West to deliver a broad range of modern military equipment to help Ukrainian forces recapture large swathes of territory controlled by Russian forces.
The Defense Ministry said several of the captured vehicles had working engines, suggesting that the battles they were involved in had been short and that Ukrainian troops had “fled” their offensive positions.