Ukraine said on Monday it was gaining ground on the outskirts of the ravaged eastern city of Bakhmout, but downplayed the extent of the “offensive actions” carried out elsewhere on the front, Russia claiming on the contrary to repel attacks from wingspan.
These operations take place at a time when the Ukrainian authorities say they have been preparing for months a vast counter-offensive intended to force Russian troops to withdraw from the areas they occupy. However, they warned that they would not reveal anything about their plans or the timing of this attack.
“The defensive operation (of Ukraine) includes counter-offensive actions. Therefore, in some sectors we are carrying out offensive actions,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said simply on Monday.
She also reported, without further details, “minor fighting” in the south where Russian forces are “on the defensive”.
The Russian Ministry of Defense meanwhile claimed to have countered since the morning of June 4 attacks on five sectors of the front “in the southern direction of the Donetsk region”, located in the east.
He claimed that Russian soldiers had inflicted heavy losses on Ukrainian forces near the locality of Neskutchne, in the Donetsk region, and that of Novodarivka, just on the border between this same region and the more southern Zaporizhia.
New “attempts to break through the Russian defenses” also took place on Monday afternoon near the town of Novodonetské, in the vicinity of Vougledar, a recurring hot spot on the front in the south of the Donetsk region.
“The enemy has not achieved its objectives”, welcomed the Russian ministry, broadcasting images of tanks being destroyed.
According to him, the Chief of Staff of the Russian army and commander of operations in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, “was during this period at one of the forward command posts in this direction”.
According to Kiev, the Bakhmout sector, which is the scene of the longest and deadliest battle of the conflict and which Moscow claimed to have taken in May, remains “the epicenter of hostilities”.
Mrs. Maliar affirms that the Ukrainian forces are advancing on the outskirts of this city “on a fairly broad front”: “We are winning successes and occupying the dominant heights”.
According to her, the Ukrainian troops have advanced several hundred meters on this sector of the front.
This Ukrainian progress was confirmed by the leader of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Evgeny Prigojine, according to whom “part of the locality of Berkhivka is already lost”, a “shame”.
He once again attacked General Gerasimov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
If Ukraine remains silent on its real plans for a counter-offensive, Russian experts and soldiers expect Kiev to multiply attacks on enemy lines to detect weaknesses there, before launching the bulk of the troops.
This was the scenario of September 2022 when the Ukrainian army had secretly prepared an assault which ended up leading to the reconquest of almost the entire Kharkiv region in the northeast.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking in New Delhi, said it was up to the Ukrainians to “communicate about their operation”.
“In terrible condition”
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak for his part quipped on Twitter that Russia “is already actively engaged in repelling a global offensive that does not yet exist”.
In addition, for two weeks the incursions and bombings have multiplied in the Russian region of Belgorod, bordering Ukraine, claimed by fighters presenting themselves as being Russians who are fighting alongside the Ukrainians. The strikes killed several civilians and injured dozens of civilians.
In the latest operation on Sunday, one such group dubbed the “Freedom Legion of Russia” took prisoners who are to be handed over to kyiv. A dozen detainees, including two injured, are visible in a video.
This is the first time that Russians have been captured on Russian territory.
The governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, even, exceptionally, mentioned possible negotiations, but the pro-Ukrainian fighters assured in their video that this Russian official had not gone to the meeting point.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not comment, saying only that it repelled another incursion on Sunday.
Fighting has been concentrated in recent days around Novaya Tavoljanka and Chebekino, near the border, forcing thousands of civilians to flee to Belgorod, the regional capital.
“We are in a terrible state. But we hold on, we try to be strong, because we have children […]. But what will happen next? Of course, we don’t know,” Irina Bourlakova, a displaced person who went to seek humanitarian aid in a reception center, told AFP.
This 30-year-old woman fled Chebekino with her husband and son. They lived there in the city center, hit in recent days by artillery fire of unprecedented intensity.
During the night from Sunday to Monday, the Belgorod region was again the target of strikes and a drone attack, according to Mr. Gladkov.
Ukraine assures that it is not piloting these attacks.