Zaporizhia, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed Saturday that a long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive to push back Russia had begun.
“Counter-offensive and defensive measures are being taken in Ukraine,” said Mr. Zelensky said at a press conference in Kyiv with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “At any point, I won’t go into detail.”
His comments confirmed what military analysts, US officials and the Kremlin have been pointing out for days: Ukrainian troops, along with Western tanks and armored vehicles, are attacking strong Russian positions in several places in the south and east.
One of the Ukrainian thrusts was around the Russian-held city of Pakmut in the east. Ukrainian military officials said on Saturday that Kiev’s forces had advanced about a mile in parts of the front line near Pakmut. As Ukraine’s counteroffensive takes shape in the country’s southeast, it is claiming a gain in one of the three battles now underway.
The Ukrainian army launched an offensive near Pakmut to take advantage of the rotation of Russian units in the area, Colonel Serhii Serevaty, spokesman for the Eastern Military Command, told local television. He said that in the last 24 hours, the Ukrainian army has carried out 6 attacks near Pakmut.
He did not specify where Ukraine had advanced, and his claims have not been independently verified. Moscow’s forces say they are repelling Ukrainian offensives in three areas that have been at the center of fighting in recent days, and the Russian government has reported that Ukrainian forces have failed in their efforts to retake the Pakmut region.
Ukrainian troops are fighting in the fields and grassy hills west of Baghmut, having been largely pushed out of the city last month after the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
With Russia hailing its capture of the city as a victory, it must now defend it or face an embarrassing setback. Ukraine’s objective in Pakmut is to force Russia to divert military inspectors and Ukrainian officials from elsewhere in southern Ukraine to protect Pakmut’s ruins and inflict casualties.
“Our main goal remains unchanged,” Mr. Serewati said: “To inflict maximum damage on the enemy.”
Southwest of Baghmut, Ukraine is fighting in two locations considered the focus of a broader counteroffensive that would cut Russian rail and road links to the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. Fighting broke out last week near the towns of Origiv in Zaporizhia region and Velika Novosilka in Donetsk region. Ukrainian officials have not commented on the fighting in these areas.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations, confirmed that Ukrainian troops suffered casualties and equipment losses in the early fighting, as expected. Russian losses are unclear, but attackers generally suffer heavier initial casualties than dug-in defenders.
Russian military bloggers have already achieved early success as they profile the military against an onslaught of Western-backed Ukrainian forces.
Russian state news Channel 1 said Russian forces had repulsed Ukrainian offensives near Lisyzansk and Avdiyvka, and that Ukrainian forces “regularly fail” in their attempts to penetrate Bagmut, which Russian news agencies call Artemivsk by its Soviet name.
Videos and photos posted by pro-war Russian bloggers and verified by the New York Times show that at least three German-made Panther 2 tanks and eight American-made Bradley fighting vehicles were recently abandoned or destroyed by Ukrainian troops. Russian military blogger Sasha Kotz said on Telegram that the seizure of German-made tanks was a “trump card in information warfare.”
As fighting escalates on the frontlines, both armies are firing long-range rockets, missiles and drones at distant targets.
On Saturday, Russian ballistic and cruise missiles and explosive drones hit a Ukrainian military airfield near Poltava, east of Kyiv, said Dmytro Lunin, head of the region’s military administration. Mr. Lunin said the strike started a fire and damaged equipment, but no one was killed or injured.
An explosion damaged a resort complex on the Sea of Azov where Russian troops were stationed in Russian-occupied territory, the mayor of the city of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, told local news media. He said Russian forces later evacuated the area.