Ukraine reports some successes in counteroffensive against Russian forces

(Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday singled out military units in the east and south for their actions against Russian troops and other officials reported some breakthroughs in a counteroffensive to reclaim Russian-occupied territory.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces described a “partial success” near the eastern city of Bakhmut, long a focal point of fighting. And it said Ukrainian troops were making gradual progress in their southward advance to the Sea of Azov.

Russian accounts of the fighting said their troops had beaten back Ukrainian attacks near Bakhmut.

Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports of either side.

Ukraine began its counteroffensive in June and has focused on retaking Bakhmut, seized by Russian troops in May, and capturing clusters of villages in the south. They face Russian troops that are well dug in and have benefited from extensive mining operations.

Ukraine has bristled at what critics in the Western media have described as the campaign’s slow pace and questionable tactics. But U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed “very, very encouraging progress” during talks in Kyiv on Wednesday.

Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address on Thursday, provided few details of operations.

“Thank you soldiers for very, very effective results in destroying the occupiers,” Zelenskiy said. “And results are precisely what Ukraine needs now from everyone.”

One national guard unit fighting in the east and two in the south he mentioned included the 12th brigade, which has soldiers of the Azov brigade who last year defended the Azovstal steel works in the city of Mariupol. Military analysts said they had been holding Ukrainian positions in the northeast.

The general staff report said: “As a result of its assault operations, the defence forces have achieved a partial success south of Bakhmut, pushing the enemy out of and reinforcing their own positions.”

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar told national television that Ukrainian forces were pressing their drive near southward from the village of Robotyne, captured last week.

Maliar said that on the southern front, where Ukrainian forces are trying to sever a land bridge established by Russia between the Crimean peninsula Russia annexed in 2014, and the occupied east, “events are developing rapidly.”

Russia’s Defence Ministry, in its reports on the fighting, said Moscow’s forces had repelled nine attempted Ukrainian advances near Klishchiivka, a village on heights south of Bakhmut seen as critical to securing control of the city.

(Reporting by Nick Starkov and Ron Popeski; editing by Grant McCool)