KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyi on Saturday gave his first formal confirmation that Ukraine’s long-awaited offensive against Russian troops is underway.
“Counteroffensive and defensive operations are taking place in Ukraine. At what stage, I won’t elaborate,” Zelenskyy said at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Canadian president pledges $375 million in military aid to Ukraine His country has provided about $6 billion since Russia launched a full-scale invasion 15 months ago.
Ukraine’s offensive has gradually focused in recent days, with ground attacks against Russian troops in three separate areas in the country’s southeast and east.
Prior to Zelensky’s comments, Ukrainian leaders declined to say whether the operation had been launched. The Ukrainians have repeatedly said they will share few details of their attack, which is said to be the largest such operation since the Russian invasion in February last year.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russian forces were repulsing Ukraine’s attempts to advance.
“We can clearly state that the offensive began with the use of strategic reserves of the Ukrainian army,” Putin said during a meeting with other heads of state in the southern Russian city of Sochi. “But Ukrainian troops have not achieved their stated tasks in any combat zone.”
Zelenskyy responded on Saturday, saying, “I am in daily contact with our commanders. All are positive. So send it to Putin.”
Ukrainian attacks in three different areas
According to multiple reports, Ukrainian troops are attempting two separate thrusts in the southeastern region of Zaporizhia and the eastern city of Pakmut.
Many military analysts predicted that Ukraine would attack the southeastern region in an attempt to separate Russian forces in Ukraine’s east from Russian forces in the southern peninsula of Crimea.
One of Russia’s few successes in the war was the establishment of a land bridge on Ukraine’s southeastern coast last year, connecting the two groups of Russian fighters.
As Ukraine tries to sever that link, it faces Russian troops that have been preparing for months. The Russians have reportedly built multiple layers of defenses, including trenches, mines and concrete barriers, in areas considered vulnerable to Ukraine.
Further challenging the Ukrainians, much of the terrain in the southeast is flat farmland, providing little protection for forces attempting to advance.
However, the Ukrainians believe they can deal a powerful blow to the Russians with brigades of thousands of troops recently trained in NATO countries, as well as upgrade weapons provided by the West.
While video and photographs from the battlefield are limited, some images show the Ukrainians using Bradley fighting vehicles recently purchased from the United States and Panther tanks from Germany.
“We are seeing newly Western-trained and armed Ukrainian regiments participating in significant armored attacks on Russian positions,” said Dmitrii Alperovych, an analyst who has closely monitored the war. “Those squadrons with that equipment were built expressly for this counterattack.”
The Russians knocked out Western equipment supplied to Ukraine
However, Russia’s Defense Ministry released a photo showing a cluster of several abandoned armored vehicles damaged by the Ukrainians.
But Alberovich leads the way Silverado Policy Accelerator, A Washington think tank said the initial backlash should not be surprising.
“Because the offensive has just begun, it’s too early to say how it’s going to pan out,” he told NPR. “Ukraine is attacking heavily fortified Russian positions. They are expected to sustain significant casualties.”
In addition to Ukraine’s push in the southeast, the army is trying to advance near the eastern city of Baghmut.
Russia recently captured the city after months of heavy fighting. But Ukraine says it is making some progress north and south of the city in renewed fighting in recent days.
Many analysts believe Ukraine’s goal in Pakmut is to keep Russian forces occupied in the city so they cannot leave to reinforce Russian troops in the southeast.
Elsewhere, the Russian military continues to launch missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities across the country.
Between Friday night and Saturday morning, Russia fired more than 40 rounds into Ukraine at three different locations. Four Ukrainians were killed and more than 25 wounded, Ukrainian officials said.