Ukraine counter-offensive: Kyiv says it has liberated villages in Donetsk region

June 11, 2023 -BBC News –Ukraine says it has liberated three villages in the south-east of the country in the first victories of its much-anticipated counter-offensive.

Footage on social media showed Ukrainian troops celebrating in the neighbouring settlements of Blahodatne and Neskuchne in the Donetsk region.

Kyiv’s deputy defence minister said nearby Makarivka was also taken.

On Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that the counter-offensive had begun.

These three settlements would be the first liberated since his comments, but not the first that Ukraine has recaptured since Monday, when pockets of its forces began to advance in the country’s south.

Moscow has yet to confirm the fall of any of the villages, instead speaking of repelling Ukrainian assaults in the region.

Elsewhere, Ukraine says Russia has blown up another dam in the Zaporizhzhia region, following the destruction of the major Nova Kakhovka on Monday, which caused widespread flooding.

Ukraine says the dam was blown up by Russian forces, who have controlled it since February 2022.

Valeriy Shershen, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military, said Moscow’s forces had chosen to blow up a second dam near the village of Novodarivka, which “led to the flooding on both banks of the Mokri Yaly river”.

Mr Shershen said Russia was deliberately blowing up dams in the region to halt Ukraine’s advance towards occupied areas.

Russia has denied it blew up the Nova Kakhovka dam and has blamed Ukraine instead.

‘Under the Ukrainian flag again’

In footage shared by pro-Ukrainian accounts on social media, troops could be seen raising the Ukrainian flag outside a burned out building in Blahodatne.

And the state border guard published videos showing Kyiv’s forces announcing that “Neskuchne of the Donetsk region is under the Ukrainian flag again”, before shouting the now standard battle cry of “Glory to Ukraine”.

Meanwhile, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar claimed in a Telegram video that Ukraine’s forces had also taken the village of Makarivka.

An army spokesperson said the gains were the first localised victories of the counter-offensive.

While the capture of the three villages mark the biggest advances of recent days, the settlements are relatively small. Blahodatne had a pre-war population of just 1,000 residents.

The village, which has been the centre of intense fighting in recent days, sits on the road towards the city of Mariupol, and some analysts have suggested that Ukraine could seek to recapture the port city in the coming months.

Others have speculated that Kyiv wants to break the land bridge between occupied Crimea and Donetsk, isolating Russian troops on the peninsula.

Further east, Ukrainian troops are also said to have advanced near the ruined city of Bakhmut, the scene of a long and bloody battle between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops.

Senior officials in Kyiv have refused to comment on the specifics of the advance.

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Ukraine’s enigmatic head of intelligence Kyrylo Budanov released a video on Sunday repeating the catchphrase “plans love silence”, which has symbolised the secrecy behind the counteroffensive.

The extent of Ukraine’s operations remain unclear, but the US-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Saturday that Kyiv’s forces were attacking in at least four front-line areas.

Ukraine has suffered some setbacks when probing Russian fortifications. A group of Ukrainian soldiers told the AFP news agency that they had lost several new American-made Bradley fighting vehicles in an attack in the southeast of Zaporizhzhia province on Thursday.

Six of the nine vehicles were wrecked, they said, adding that they feared someone had leaked information on their plans.

Analysts have highlighted the difficulties Ukraine faces in trying to pierce lines that Russia has been fortifying for months.

But in other areas Kyiv’s troops are said to have breached the front lines in mechanised attacks over the weekend, with German Leopard-2 tanks said to have been deployed.

Meanwhile in Russia’s Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine, rail traffic was suspended after a freight train derailed on Saturday night. Belgorod’s border areas have been hit by drones, shelling and cross-border raids in the past weeks.

Further north, the governor of the Kaluga region, Vladislav Shapsha, said there had been two drone crashes – one near the village of Strelkovk and the other in a forest.

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