Ukraine said its troops recaptured three villages from Russian forces in its southeast, the first liberated settlements it reported since launching a counteroffensive.
Soldiers hoisted the Ukrainian flag at a bombed-out building in an unverified video published on Sunday by Ukraine’s 68th Jaeger Brigade, which identified the settlement as Blahodatne in the Donetsk region.
“We’re seeing the first results of the counteroffensive actions, localised results,” Valeriy Shershen, spokesperson for Ukraine’s “Tavria” military sector, said on television.
He said the village of Blahodatne lay on the edge of the Donetsk and Zaporizhia regions, a few kilometres south of the Kyiv-controlled village of Velyka Novosilka.
Myroslav Semeniuk, spokesman for the brigade, told The Associated Press that an assault team captured six Russian troops after entering several buildings where some 60 soldiers were holed up.
“The enemy keeps shelling us but this won’t stop us,” Semeniuk said. “The next village we plan to reclaim is Urozhayne. After that, [we’ll proceed] further south.”
Russian military bloggers close to the Kremlin wrote that Blahodatne was abandoned because Moscow’s fighters feared encirclement.
Ukraine forces also retook Makarivka, the next village down, advancing between 300 and 1,500 metres (985-4,920 feet) along two directions on the southern front, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said in a statement.
A Ukrainian territorial defence unit also posted unverified footage on Telegram of its soldiers holding up their flag in Neskuchne, the village closest to Ukrainian positions in the area.
“No positions were lost on the directions where our forces are on the defensive,” Maliar added.
‘Kicking the enemy out’
The Russian defence ministry on Sunday continued to insist it was repelling Ukrainian attacks in the area. It said in a statement that Ukrainian attempts at offensive operations on the southern Donetsk and Zaporizhia axes of the front line over the past 24 hours had been “unsuccessful”.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhia region, insisted Blahodatne and two other villages in the region were in a “grey area” in terms of who controls them.
With so little information and scant independent reporting from the front lines, it has been almost impossible to assess the battlefield situation.
“We’re kicking the enemy out from our native lands. It’s the warmest feeling there is. Ukraine is going to win, Ukraine above everything,” an unidentified soldier said in the video from Blahodatne.
The occupied southeast is seen as a likely priority for Kyiv’s forces that may aim to threaten Russia’s land bridge to the annexed Crimean Peninsula and split Russian forces in half.
Makarivka is about 90km (300 miles) northwest of the city of Mariupol, which lies on the Sea of Azov on the southern rim of the land bridge. Russia captured the major city last year after besieging and bombarding it for several weeks.
Russia has built vast fortifications across occupied territory to prepare for a Ukrainian counterattack using thousands of troops trained and equipped by the West.
In her statement, Maliar also said Ukrainian forces were continuing assault operations in the east near the devastated city of Bakhmut, and advanced 250m (820 feet) near the Berkhivka Reservoir.
Russia said it captured the city of Bakhmut last month after the bloodiest and longest battle since Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion, but Kyiv says it is regaining ground on the flanks of the city.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s top adviser said six people were wounded after Russian troops opened fire on a boat evacuating people from areas to Ukrainian-held territory along a flooded front line far to the south.
Chaotic scenes from inundated southern Ukraine marked the latest upheaval and bloodshed in Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its 16th month.
Andriy Yermak, the president’s chief of staff, wrote on his Telegram account that the injured were rushed to hospital in the southern city of Kherson. An AP team on site saw three ambulances drop off injured evacuees at a hospital, one of whom was splattered with blood and whisked by stretcher into the emergency room.
Also Sunday, the Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of attacking – albeit unsuccessfully – one of its ships in the Black Sea.
According to Russia’s defence ministry, the attempted attack took place when six unmanned speedboats targeted Russia’s Priazovye reconnaissance vessel that was “monitoring the situation and ensuring security along the routes of the TurkStream and Blue Stream gas pipelines in the southeastern part of the Black Sea”.
All the speedboats were destroyed by the Russian military, and the ship did not sustain any damage, the ministry said. The claim could not be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment.
Ukraine and Russia reported exchanging scores of prisoners of war on Sunday. Russia said 94 of its soldiers were freed and Yermak said 95 Ukrainians were released.