Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) troops have launched ground attacks in multiple sectors in a possible curtain-raiser for Kyiv’s long-awaited counteroffensive, with two Kremlin-associated information platforms reporting the first-time combat use of German Leopard tanks in the war. 

On Monday evening after a day of not commenting directly, Kyiv said it was conducting "offensive actions" on the front line and noted some progress in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

"The defensive operation includes counteroffensive actions. Therefore, in some sectors, we are conducting offensive actions," Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said.

"The Bakhmut sector remains the epicentre of the hostilities," she said, adding Kyiv's troops were occupying the "dominant heights" and reported some "success."


"In the south the enemy is on the defensive," she added. Late on Monday evening, President Zelensky praised his troops for claimed advances.

"Well done, warriors! We see how hysterically Russia reacts to any step we take there, all positions we take. The enemy knows that Ukraine will win," Zelensky said in a video message published on social media.

In the southern Donbas sector on Monday, AFU forces were engaged “in heavy battles” near the village of Novodonetske, a Monday report from the pro-Russia Voenniy Obozrevatel (VO) said, and Ukrainian troops had “gained ground at some locations” and “were attempting to exploit this success.”

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The pro-Russia reporter Simyeon Pegov on Monday confirmed an AFU attack was in progress in Novodonetske. He said “30 NATO vehicles” were involved in the attack, among them Germany-produced Leopard tanks. If accurate, Pegov’s report would mark the first combat use of a NATO-standard tank in the Russia-Ukraine War.

Russian military blogger Aleksandr Khodakovskiy likewise reported Leopards in action, but by Monday afternoon Kyiv Post was unable to confirm the Leopard report independently.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense in a Monday statement said a full-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive was in progress and that its main effort was in the Donbas sector. The AFU's 21st and 31st Mechanized Brigades reportedly were engaged, consisting of “six mechanized and two tank battalions.” The AFU objective was to break through Russian lines in weakly held sectors, the statement said.


Ukrainian use of US-delivered combat engineering vehicles firing explosive charges to clear Russian minefields was reported but the location was not. At full strength a six-battalion AFU force would number some 2,200-2,500 men and 150-180 fighting vehicles. By most estimates, the 9-12 brigade reserve reportedly amassed by the AFU for its counteroffensive is 8-10 times larger.

Pegov reported that elsewhere in the Donbas sector the AFU “has started an offensive” aiming towards the villages of Novodarivka and Neskuchne, and that some AFU units had successfully bridged the local Shaitanka River and ground battles were in progress.

The overall Ukrainian objective seems to be to capture road intersections and Russian forces are responding with artillery, he said.

AFU units stationed on the long-static Maryinka sector, where battle lines have effectively not shifted since the second month of the war, launched a wave of artillery strikes and a counter-battery battle was in progress, Pegov said. Long-range AFU artillery strikes hit the town Horlivka and the city Donetsk, he said.


Heavy ground fighting also was reported around the Donbas city of Bakhmut, effectively captured by the Russian mercenary group Wagner in early March.

The AFU’s Third Assault Brigade, a unit long stationed in the sector, published on Saturday video of infantry teams supported by Soviet-era tanks and Vietnam-era M113 armored personnel carriers assaulting a trench line, using massed heavy weapons fires and smoke for concealment.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary group Wagner, said Ukrainian units on Monday and captured part of the town Berkhivka, to the north of Bakhmut, and put Russian troops to flight.

“The AFU have captured part of the village Berkhivka by Bahmut, Russian troops are running, it’s humiliating!” he said.

In the southern Zaporizhzhia sector, an area widely predicted to be the likely focus of a major Ukrainian assault southwards, Russian “news” platforms and Telegram channels reported a dramatic uptick in AFU artillery strikes across the fighting line, including the villages of Kamenske, Lukianivske, Kamyshevakhi, Novoadreivka, Novodanylivka, Mala Tokmachki, Bilohirya, Hulyaipole, Malynivka, and Poltavka.


The strikes appeared to focus on a 50 km-wide swath of the Russian battle line and supporting forces behind it, protecting the M14 highway, a key east-west Russian supply route some 100 km. to the south.

In the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, a Moscow-installed official said Ukrainian troops were on the offensive.

"It looks like the die has been cast and the next couple of months will clear up a lot. The fight will be serious because there is a lot at stake," Vladimir Rogov said. 

Military analysts have widely predicted the M-14 and the Azov Sea coast between the cities Berdyansk and Melitopol would be probable objectives in case of a major Ukrainian offensive southwards.

According to Russian military Telegram channels, Ukrainian ground forces advanced at some locations in the Zaporizhzhia sector over the weekend but were mostly stopped. Video of Russian helicopter gunships making nighttime guided missile strikes, purportedly against AFU armored vehicles in the Zaporizhia sector, were widely shared.

The pro-Russia information platform Voenniy Osvedomitel (VO) on Sunday reported an AFU probe using “heavy armored vehicles” and artillery advancing south towards the Russian-held villages Novodarivka and Neskuchne before being turned back.

Near the town Rivnopil, reportedly, Russian army drones spotted BTR and M113 armored personnel carriers, MaxxPro and HMMW armored cars moving towards possible attack positions. RF fire destroyed a AFU tank, the report claimed.


The Washington-based Institute for the Study of Warfare (ISW) said on Sunday that the maximum AFU advance in the Zaporizhia sector was three kilometers. Some Russia-associated Telegram channels said the Ukrainian attacks appeared to be probes and reconnaissance-by-fire, rather than a full-on major offensive.

In the northeastern sector Russian channels reported a wave of Ukrainian air and artillery strikes against Bilohorivka, a tactically important town controlling a crossing site over the Siversky Donets River. Other AFU fire strikes hit nine other towns or villages in the vicinity, and one target – the village Novoselovske – was assaulted by ground forces. According to the Russian military correspondent Boris Rozin, Russian defenses turned back the assault.

Until Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar's comment on Monday evening, official Ukrainian sources were mostly silent on the spike of AFU offensive activity across the front, by most measures the most intense since November.


The only real exception was the far northeastern Svatove sector where, according to Ukraine Ground Forces commander Oleksandr Syrsky during a Sunday visit to AFU positions in the vicinity, Ukrainian troops advanced some 400 meters. He praised the 92nd Mechanized Brigade - one of the AFU’s standout units – as largely responsible for the local success. 

Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for the AFU’s Joint Forces South command, in a Monday statement kept to Kyiv’s longtime messaging that the big offensive hasn’t started, but it will soon.

“The occupiers (Russian Federation troops) are morally exhausted by the long wait for the Ukrainian counteroffensive. They are constantly moving and panicking. The Rushists (a common Ukrainian epithet for Russian soldiers) do not know in which direction our counteroffensive will take place and keep 450 km of the front… in constant tension. They get nervous and… in some cases resorts to desertion. All this speaks of the enemy's moral and psychological instability,” Humaniuk said.

Ukraine’s 46th Air Assault Brigade, one of the units widely reported to be part of the general offensive, likewise hinted not yet but soon with a Monday post: “(We) cannot say anything yet… Interesting and difficult days are ahead.”

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