- By Jaroslav Lukiv
- BBC News
The Ukrainian military has launched attacks on occupying Russian forces in the key southern region of Zaporizhzhia, Russian officials and military bloggers said.
They say Ukrainian troops – backed by tanks, artillery and drones – are trying to advance south of the town of Orikhiv for a second night run.
A senior Ukrainian defense official said the enemy was on “active defense”.
Some military experts say the focus of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive is Zaporizhzhia.
They argue that Kyiv is trying to regain access to the Sea of Azov, splitting Russian occupying forces in the region into two separate groups.
This would not only weaken Russia’s combat capability but also remove a land bridge to Crimea, the southern peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Ukraine has been planning a counteroffensive for months, but it wants as much as possible to train troops and receive advanced military equipment from Western allies.
The government is saying little about its plans but its forces are probing Russian positions at several points along the front line, looking for signs of weakness.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to attack Ukraine. Overnight it launched new cruise missile and drone strikes, with falling debris killing at least one person in Zhytomyr west of the capital Kyiv.
Heavy fighting in the south
Russia occupied most of the Zaporizhzhia region soon after President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion in February 2022. However, the capital of the region, the city of Zaporizhzhia, is controlled by Ukraine.
Recent heavy fighting in the area continued overnight, with several Russian pro-Kremlin military bloggers reporting Thursday that Ukraine had continued to attack, citing the movement of armored personnel carriers and drones directing artillery.
Vladimir Rogov, a local official stationed in Russia, said Russian troops were holding their positions amid “active fighting” towards the city of Tokmak, which is considered a key target for Ukraine as it seeks to advance. in the Sea of Azov.
It is difficult to verify the competing claims of both sides. On Thursday, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Russian forces were currently “on active defense” in Zaporizhzhia and said advances were being made around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which was largely destroyed in month of battle.
The Zaporizhzhia region is also home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is in an area controlled by Russian forces.
The plant continues to receive cold water from the reservoir of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro river, despite the damage to the dam on Tuesday that saw water levels in the reservoir fall and large areas downstream of the dam were flooded.
However the resulting emergency threatens water supplies in the region, with the WHO also warning that cholera could spread.