Long-Awaited Ukrainian Counteroffensive Apparently Off to a Rocky Start

AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

The long-promised Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russian invaders has begun, according to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “Counteroffensive and defensive actions are taking place in Ukraine. At what stage, I will not say in detail,” Zelenskyy said in a news conference.

News about progress — or a lack thereof — by Ukrainian forces is scarce. Zelenskyy said that his generals were “happy” about the operation so far, which doesn’t tell us anything. Maybe they were drunk; who knows?

So it comes down to what little news can be gleaned from the fragmentary reports of soldiers and the propaganda being spread by both nations. Russia got the jump on Ukraine in that respect, publicizing the awarding of medals to soldiers who took out Leopard tanks and a Bradley fighting vehicle.


Russia’s defence ministry published several videos and pictures over recent days showing numerous strikes on Ukrainian-manned armoured vehicles and tanks from Ka-52 attack helicopters and drones.

In footage released by the ministry on Saturday, drones were shown striking tanks in the Zaporizhzhia region where Kyiv’s forces have so far focused their counteroffensive.

Reuters was able to verify the location of the video as two miles south of the village of Mala Tokmachka in Zaporizhzhia by vegetation lines, crop squares and buildings that matched satellite imagery of the area.

A Ukrainian infantryman told the Wall Street Journal that the offensive had taken several nearby villages in the past week. “We are advancing, but there is constant shelling” from the Russians, he said.

Another infantryman outside the town of Mala Tokmak said the Russians were sending barrage after barrage of grad rockets into their formations. The fields were mined and Russian helicopters and jet fighters buzzed overhead.

“They were just waiting for us… prepared positions everywhere,” he said. “It was a wall of steel. It was horrendous.”

In other words, not exactly a cakewalk.

But no one was expecting a walkover. Russia had three months to prepare an impressive array of defenses at several levels. What Ukraine has been doing the first few days of the counteroffensive is probing for weaknesses along a 600-mile front in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine.

The main element of the counteroffensive has yet to be unveiled, and experts are split on where the blow against Russia will strike the hardest. The eastern edge of the Zaporizhzhia region is one possibility if the Ukrainians’ military objective is to try to retake Crimea.


Hanna Malyar, the Deputy Defence Minister, coyly said that Russian troops were “actively on the defensive” in the area around the town of Orikhiv, around 65km south-east of Zaporizhzhia.

In a statement on Telegram, she also confirmed that battles were continuing around Velyka Novosilka, further east.

The two towns likely form the western and eastern edges of a heavily fortified stretch of the front line where many analysts believe Ukraine will eventually try and punch through Russian lines.

It’s not a secret that one of our main goals is to cut the land corridor that feeds the whole southern grouping of enemy forces,” Mr Kuzan said.

Ukraine is trying to divide the Russian forces in the east of Ukraine from the Russian forces in the southern peninsula of Crimea. If they can do that, they should be able to pour tens of thousands of troops into the gap and begin the long, slogging process of reclaiming Crimea. But Russia, no longer on the offensive, could make the entire counteroffensive a bloodbath by hunkering down and using their excellent artillery to keep Ukraine at bay.

By the beginning of July, we should know how successful both sides have been.


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