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Ukraine announces gains in “first results” of counterattack against Russia

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By Tom Balmforth

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine said on Sunday its troops had made territorial advances on three villages in its southeast, the first liberated settlements it has reported since launching a counter-offensive this past week.

Kyiv’s forces posted unverified videos showing soldiers hoisting the Ukrainian flag at a bombed-out building in the village of Blahodatne in Donetsk region and posing with their unit’s flag in the adjacent village of Neskuchne.

“We’re seeing the first results of the counter-offensive actions, localized results,” Valeryi Shershen, spokesperson for Ukraine’s “Tavria” military sector, said on television.

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar later said Ukrainian forces had “deoccupied” Makarivka, the next village to the south, and advanced between 300 and 1,500 metres in two directions on the southern front.

“No positions were lost on the directions where our forces are on the defensive,” Maliar added on Telegram.

Reuters was unable to verify battlefield reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that a Ukrainian military push was underway, but that it had failed to breach Russian defensive lines and taken heavy casualties.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, praised his troops in his nightly video address, but made no reference to the specific areas where the fighting was reported.

“Of course, I am thankful to our soldiers for this day,” Zelenskiy said, referring only to the two main sectors of the fighting in the east and the south.

“Each one of our combat brigades, each of our units.”

Zelenskiy on Saturday had given his strongest signal yet that Kyiv has launched its long-awaited counterattack to seize back land in the east and south, confirming that “counteroffensive and defensive operations” were taking place.

Kyiv officials have imposed a strict period of operational silence and urged Ukrainians not to disclose any information that could compromise the operation.

‘KICKING THE ENEMY OUT’

With so little information out of Kyiv and scant independent reporting from the front lines, it has been almost impossible to assess the battlefield situation.

The video from Blahodatne showed Ukrainian troops inside a heavily damaged building as artillery rumbled in the distance.

“We’re kicking the enemy out from our native lands. It’s the warmest feeling there is. Ukraine is going to win, Ukraine above everything,” an unidentified soldier said in the video on Facebook.

Russia said at least twice this week that it had repelled attacks close by the nearby settlement of Velyka Novosilka.

The Ukrainian advances follow the breach last week of the Kakhovka dam further west in Kherson region that unleashed floods and prompted rescues of residents from submerged areas.

Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the breach.

The Ukrainian-appointed governor of Kherson region on Sunday said Russian forces had shelled three boats evacuating mainly elderly evacuees to safety, killing three and injuring 10.

Shershen later told a radio interviewer that Russian forces had blown up a smaller hydroelectric dam near the scene of the latest combats in an attempt to disrupt the Ukrainian advance.

“This led to the flooding of both banks of the Mokri Yaly River,” he told Ukrainian NV Radio. “This, however, does not affect our counter-offensive actions.”

The occupied southeast is seen as a likely priority for Kyiv’s forces that may aim to sever Russia’s land bridge to the annexed peninsula of Crimea and split Russian forces in half.

Makarikva is around 90 km (55.92 miles) northwest of the city of Mariupol, which lies on the Sea of Azov on the southern rim of the land bridge. Russia captured the major city last year after besieging and bombarding it for several weeks.

Russia has built vast fortifications across occupied territory to prepare for a Ukrainian counterattack using thousands of troops trained and equipped by the West.

Maliar also said Ukrainian forces were continuing assault operations in the east near the devastated city of Bakhmut and had advanced 250 metres near the adjacent Berkhivka Reservoir.

Russia said it captured the city of Bakhmut last month after the bloodiest battle of Russia’s February 2022 invasion, but Kyiv has said it has been regaining ground on the city’s flanks.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said separately that a motorised infantry brigade had advanced on the front line around the eastern city Avdiivka in recent days and captured a Russian position, but it provided no further details.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Ron Popeski and Diane Craft)

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