Ukrainian troops have recaptured Piatykhatky, a village in the west of the Zaporizhia region, Kyiv’s second gain on that front since it launched its counteroffensive earlier this month.
A Russian-installed official in the partly-occupied Zaporizhia region, Vladimir Rogov, said Ukraine had taken “operational control” of the settlement and that Russian troops were trying to counterattack with shelling.
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“The enemy’s ‘wave-like’ offensives yielded results, despite enormous losses,” Rogov said on the Telegram messaging app.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine on the situation and Al Jazeera could not independently confirm the battlefield reports. Ukraine said on June 12 it had taken control of Lobkove, a village next to Piatykhatky.
Zaporizhia is the location of some of the most intense fighting since the counteroffensive began, according to a United Kingdom’s intelligence assessment on Sunday. Battles were also raging around the city of Bakhmut and in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, the UK said.
Ukraine is on the offensive in these areas and “made small advances”, it said, adding that Russian forces are conducting “relatively effective defensive operations” in Ukraine’s south.
Serhiy Bratchuk, a government spokesperson for Ukraine’s southwestern Odesa region, said Ukrainian forces destroyed a “very significant” ammunition depot near the Russian-occupied port city of Henichesk in nearby Kherson province.
“Our armed forces dealt a good blow in the morning,” Bratchuk said in a video message posted to his Telegram channel.
Western analysts and military officials have cautioned that Ukraine’s counteroffensive to dislodge Russian forces from occupied areas along the 1,000km (620-mile) front line could last a long time.
Russia’s defence ministry made no mention of Piatykhatky in its daily update, in which it said its forces had repelled Ukrainian attacks in three sections of the front line. A separate statement from Russia’s Vostok group of forces said Ukraine had failed to take the settlement.
The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that over the previous 24 hours, Russia carried out 43 air strikes, four missile attacks and 51 rocket launches.
According to its statement, Russia continues to concentrate its efforts on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Lyman in the Donetsk region, with 26 combat clashes taking place.
‘No chance’, says Putin
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday praised Ukrainian forces for their “very effective” repelling of enemy assaults near Avdiivka.
He also described the southern front as “the most brutal” and expressed gratitude to the troops fighting there.
Meanwhile, the boss of Russia’s Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said that 32,000 men who joined up to fight with his mercenary group from jail had returned home after the end of their contracts in Ukraine.
Prigozhin toured Russian prisons to recruit fighters, promising pardons if they survived a half-year tour of front-line duty with Wagner. In an interview last month, Prigozhin said he recruited 50,000 convicts, about 10,000 of whom were killed in Bakhmut.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely comments on the course of the war, made two unusually detailed interventions last week in which he derided the Ukrainian push and said Kyiv’s forces had “no chance” despite being newly equipped with Western tanks.
His comments appeared intended to reassure Russians at a crucial juncture, nearly 16 months into the conflict, as Ukraine seeks to break months of virtual deadlock and take back the 18 percent of its territory still under Russian control.
Meanwhile, the United Nations said on Sunday that Russia has “so far declined our request to access the areas under its temporary military control” after the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam on June 6 in the southern region of Kherson unleashed 18 cubic km (4.3 cubic miles) of water that submerged villages and farmland.
“The UN will continue to engage to seek the necessary access. We urge the Russian authorities to act in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law,” said Denise Brown, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, in a statement. “Aid cannot be denied to people who need it.”
Zelenskyy accused Russia of deliberately blowing up the dam, calling it a “war crime” and “brutal ecocide”. Moscow has denied causing the blast. Its soldiers were in control of the dam at the time.