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Ukraine retakes villages in ‘first results’ of counterattack – Kyiv

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By Tom Balmforth

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

Soldiers hoisted the Ukrainian flag at a bombed-out building in an unverified video published by Ukraine’s 68th Jaeger Brigade, which identified the settlement as Blahodatne in Donetsk region.

“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.

He said the village of Blahodatne lay on the edge of the Donetsk and Zaporizhzia regions a few kilometres south of the Kyiv-controlled village of Velyka Novosilka.

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar later said in a statement Kyiv’s forces had also retaken Makarivka, the next village along, advancing bewteen 300 and 1,500 metres along two directions on the southern front.

A Ukrainian territorial defence unit also posted unverified footage on Telegram of its soldiers holding up their flag in Neskuchne, the village that had been closest to Ukrainian positions in the area.

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

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday gave 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.

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

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 the sound of 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 Ukrainian attacks close by the nearby settlement of Velyka Novosilka.

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

Makarikva is around 90km 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.

In her statement, 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 Berkhivka Reservoir.

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

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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