KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine said on Monday its troops had liberated the southeastern settlement of Robotyne and were trying to push farther south in their two-month-old counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces.
The Ukrainian military said that its troops last week had raised the national flag in the strategic village and posted a video showing the move. The forces then carried out mopping-up operations until they confirmed control on Monday, the military said.
“Robotyne has been liberated,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar was quoted as saying on Monday by the military.
The settlement is 10 km (six miles) south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region on an important road towards Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub.
Tokmak’s capture would be a milestone as Ukrainian troops press southwards towards the Sea of Azov in a military drive that is intended to split Russian forces following Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Russia has not confirmed the Ukrainian advance. In a statement, Russia’s defence ministry said Moscow’s troops had repelled attacks by Kyiv’s forces near Robotyne and Verbove.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke on Monday of different sectors of the front in his nightly video address but made no reference to Robotyne. He said Ukrainian forces were preparing responses to Russian plans “definitely. In a way they do not anticipate”.
Ukraine believes its fighters have broken through the most difficult line of Russian defences in the south and that they will now start advancing more quickly, a commander who led troops into Robotyne told Reuters last week.
Separately, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Monday any suggestion of differences with Washington over Ukraine’s military strategy were “mistaken and invented”.
He told a news conference that Ukrainian commander-in-chief Valery Zalunzhniy was meeting “systematically” with senior officials from allied countries supplying Ukraine with weaponry.
“Everything is going according to the plan, which was discussed with our partners in advance when our brigades were being formed, when they were equipped…,” Reznikov said.
Media have reported on a meeting this month of senior NATO military chiefs and Ukraine’s top general on resetting Ukraine’s military strategy.
The New York Times last week quoted U.S. and other Western officials as saying that the offensive had made limited progress because Ukraine had too many troops in the wrong places.
A military spokesman told Ukrainian television Kyiv’s forces were continuing to fortify their positions in Robotyne.
“Stabilisation measures, demining and preparations for further actions are under way,” Oleksandr Shtupun said.
Maliar told Ukrainian television earlier that Kyiv’s troops, who began their counteroffensive in early June, were now moving southeast of Robotyne and south of nearby Mala Tokmachka.
Ukrainian forces are also fighting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, and progress has been slower than had been widely expected because they have encountered vast Russian minefields and trenches.
Maliar described the battlefield situation in the east as “very hot” in the past week. She said Russian troops were gathering new forces there and regrouping, and Moscow was aiming to deploy its best troops there.
Ukrainian forces had continued to advance south of Bakhmut, she said, referring to the shattered eastern city captured by Moscow’s troops in May after months of fierce fighting.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Pavel Polityuk, Writing by Anna Pruchnicka, Editing by Timothy Heritage, Alex Richardson, Ron Popeski and Cynthia Osterman)