Ukraine launches counter-offensive using Western tanks

Ukraine launches counter-offensive using Western tanks to force back Putin’s troops

  • German-made Leopard II tanks have been seen on the frontline of the battle
  • Russia says 1,500 Ukrainian troops appear to have taken part in the offensive 

Ukrainian forces stepped up their major offensive yesterday using Western tanks to pound Russia’s frontline in the war-torn country.

In the heaviest fighting since Kyiv launched its bid to liberate occupied territories, Ukrainian artillery ‘came in waves’ according to Russian sources.

The sudden upsurge in military activity followed Ukrainian reconnaissance, or ‘shaping’ missions intended to identify weaknesses in Russian defences.

US officials also confirmed the engagements in the Zaporizhzhia region yesterday appeared to be the start of a main thrust.

The heavy fighting resulted in losses on both sides and US officials added the Russians had put up ‘stiff resistance’.

Ukrainian soldiers fire the grenade launcher towards the Russian positions on the frontline near Kreminna, Luhansk region on Thursday

Ukrainian soldiers work during a combat operation on the frontline near Kreminna, Luhansk region yesterday

Unconfirmed footage on Russian social media platforms appeared to show German-made Leopard tanks being destroyed.

Last night, the Ukrainian government offered scant details about the long awaited counter-offensive.

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Deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar confirmed fighting was taking place: ‘Battles continue for Velyka Novosilka in the Novopavlovsk direction. In the Orikhiv area, the enemy is already on the defensive.’

But some Russian sources were sceptical of this claim, with Vladimir Romanov – a military blogger based in Crimea – said the clashes so far were only ‘active probings’ and Russian troops were ‘well enough prepared’ for the counter-offensive. 

Russian blogger Zapiski Veterana (Notes of a Veteran) said: ‘I think we can already talk about the beginning of Ukraine’s long-announced offensive.

‘There hasn’t been such movement on the front for a long time. The Ukrainians came in waves.’

The angle of the attacks suggested Ukraine’s objective priority was to piece through Russia’s defences to reach the cities of Tokmak, Melitopol and Berdyansk on the Black Sea coast and cut off the Crimean peninsula.

Veterana added: ‘All their [Ukrainian] forces are being thrown forward. The enemy has managed to seize several heights but they did not manage a deep breakthrough.’

A third advance around the heavily bombarded settlement of Bakhmut also took place yesterday, with Ukrainian sources saying its troops had gained a mile of ground around the city.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said in a video address that an estimated 1,500 Ukrainian troops had taken part, attacking in four directions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, hosts a video conference call with members of the newly formed international Expert Group on Russian ecocide yesterday

A British Challenger 2 tank which has been sent by the UK to aid Ukraine in its fight against Russia

The acceleration in the tempo of operations by Ukraine came as at least one person was killed after Russia shelled the flood-hit area of Kherson.

Thousands of homes remained underwater last night following explosions at the nearby Kakhovaka dam.

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The civilian died and at least eight others were injured after the Kremlin targeted evacuees fleeing in the wake of Tuesday’s blasts, which have been described as the biggest environmental disaster since Chernobyl.

The death was confirmed by the prosecutor’s office in Kherson, which is 37 miles downstream from the dam.

The victims were being moved from a neighbourhood submerged by released water when the shelling took place. Unconfirmed Ukrainian reports this afternoon also suggested some people have drowned.

Russian shells also nearly killed Ukraine’s chief rabbi who was visiting the disaster zone today. He was forced to dive for cover while conducting television interviews.

The Ukrainian interior ministry said: ‘The shelling began precisely during the evacuation of citizens whose homes were flooded. And it continues to prevent Ukraine from saving the most valuable – human lives.’

Moscow continues to deny any responsibility for the blasts which have caused 20,000 people to leave their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians also face the threat of serious diseases due to pollution caused by the blasts.

Grain fields across vast areas of southern Ukraine could also be turned into deserts as they will be deprived of irrigation previously provided by the dam on the Dnipro River. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters.

People help an elderly man onto a boat during evacuation from a flooded neighborhood in Kherson

A church surrounded by water in a flooded neighbourhood in Kherson after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam

The threat of exploding land mines also remains, according to the Red Cross. The ordnance, planted by Russian forces, will be a danger to civilians in the area ‘for decades’, the agency said today.

On a visit to Kherson today Volodymyr Zelensky criticised the international response to the incident, in particular the United Nations which is responsible for providing flood relief.

The Ukrainian president praised rescue workers for their exhaustive efforts and said today’s priority was to ‘protect lives’.

He said to them: ‘You are going through this difficult ordeal now. We will help you and rebuild everything which needs to be restored. I thank you and wish you good health.’

An estimated 250 square miles of land are presently underwater. Most of the affected territory is in Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson region.

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