Zaporizhia, Ukraine – Thunderstorms have battered southern Ukraine, muddying the terrain and complicating operations for both forces in the early stages of Kiev’s counteroffensive to retake Russian-held territory.
After claiming to have recaptured a series of farming villages over the weekend, Ukraine’s military reported only minimal gains on Tuesday as its forces probed Russian defenses. The fighting was apparently slow-moving, keeping in line with what military analysts had suggested should be expected at the start of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive.
At the same time, unconfirmed Russian accounts on Tuesday indicated that Moscow’s attack helicopters had attacked Ukrainian troops, as Ukraine announced it had retaken several villages. The Russian account could not be immediately confirmed.
As Ukraine hunts for space to drive a wedge through Russian-occupied territory in the southeast, it has yet to commit the bulk of forces trained and armed by Western allies to counterattack.
Russia has built several fortifications on the plains of Ukraine’s offensive and has heavily planted the ground with mines to slow down Ukraine’s tanks and armored vehicles. At least eight U.S.-made Bradley fighting vehicles were abandoned or destroyed by Ukrainian troops in the early days of the counteroffensive, according to videos and photos published by pro-war Russian bloggers and verified by The New York Times.
On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry Posted a video “Now these are our trophies,” to show its forces had captured an undisclosed number of Bradleys and German-made Panther tanks left behind by Ukrainian forces fighting in Zaporizhia. The Russian claim could not immediately be independently verified.
Andriy Kovalev, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army’s general staff, said in a televised news broadcast on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had advanced about 500 to 1,000 yards in some locations in the south that he did not specify.
Russian attack helicopters targeted Ukrainian soldiers overnight near the town of Velika Novosilka in the Donetsk region, which Ukraine began attacking last week, a Russian-appointed official in southern Ukraine posted on the Telegram app on Tuesday.
“Our night counterattacks have begun,” wrote officer Vladimir Rokov, adding that the Russian military was flying two types of attack helicopters. Both forces were firing artillery in the area, he said.
Pro-war Russian bloggers, who are associated with military or paramilitary groups and often provide accounts of the fighting rather than official Russian announcements, said on Monday that Russia had launched counterattacks in the same area. A blogger posting under the name Special Forces Ambassador wrote that in the fighting near Velika Novosilka, neither side had a clear advantage.
“In reports from the field we have one piece of information, and then another,” the blogger wrote.
Russian counterattacks, if confirmed, would suggest a defensive strategy of attacking Ukrainian soldiers when they move outside the range of their own military’s air defense and electronic jamming systems. Analysts said Russia could use such an approach in an attempt to slow Ukrainian developments.
Ukraine has advanced in at least two places in southern Ukraine but there are no signs that it has breached the dense Russian defense zones, which include mines, infantry trenches and concrete barriers to stop tanks.
“We must be ready for our army to fight long and hard” to breach the defense lines, wrote Ivan Kryzhevsky, a military analyst at the Ukrainian analysis group Defense Express, in a Facebook post. Ukraine and Russia must be ready, he said, “to present every small defeat of our forces as a strategic victory.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech on Monday evening that the fighting was “fierce” but that Ukrainian troops were advancing despite the rain.
“The rain makes our work difficult,” he said. “The strength of our players is still paying off.”
Maria Varennikova Contributed report.