Russian military bloggers on Thursday were split on the progress of a substantial Ukrainian ground attack launched overnight in the Zaporizhzhia sector, as a senior Kyiv official said the Ukrainian army’s long-awaited counteroffensive is yet to be launched. 

In one of the most detailed descriptions of combat reportedly taking place in the vicinity of the city Orikhiv, Russian military writer Aleksandr Sladkov claimed elements of Russia’s 42nd Motor Rifle Division threw back a series of Ukrainian tank and armored infantry assaults, inflicting serious losses on attackers.

Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) units riding as many as 120 tanks and armored personnel carriers, and backed by heavy artillery strikes, assaulted Russian lines three times in assaults starting at 1 a.m., Sladkov said in a Vblog, citing messages he said he received from Russian combat units involved in the fighting. Russian land mines, artillery fire and anti-tank missiles destroyed around 20 Ukrainian combat vehicles by morning and Russian defense lines were strong and holding, he claimed.

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Russian military “journalist” Simyon Pegov, in a 10:30 a.m. post, reported four Ukrainian armored columns each led by four or five tanks attacked Russian positions to the east and west of Orikhiv. Over the day Ukrainian assaults and attempts to break through along the Orikhiv-Tokmak highway did not stop, he said.

“It’s too early to say the Ukrainian assault has failed. From the combat positions they are saying that in the direction of Orikhiv-Tokmak the enemy (AFU) infantry is still advancing and trying to dig in. Like before (in overnight fighting), enemy artillery and tanks are working over our positions intensively,” Pegov said. In a 13:00 update, Pegov said fighting was continuing and that Russian forces were taking losses.

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The independent military cartography group DeepState on Thursday confirmed Russian reports of serious fighting, saying heavy battles were in progress in a 20-km. section of the southern from between the town Orikhiv and the village Pavlikva, to the west of the Orikhiv-Tokmak highway.

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Many Russian sources reported some of the heaviest Ukrainian artillery fire seen yet in the war. Some said Russian positions were being hit by “tons” of shells. Sladkov claimed one infantry company – a relatively small unit of 80-150 men – was hit by more than 1,000 howitzer rounds overnight. 

Multiple sources claimed AFU units were firing HIMARS guided missiles – a US-delivered precision-guided weapon the Ukrainian military has rarely used against frontline positions in the past – at Russian defensive positions. Russian tank and attack helicopters held in reserve were committed to the Orikhiv line, other reports said.

For the second time in three days, scattered Russian Telegram channels reported German Leopard tanks on the line and under fire, but without conclusive evidence.

The Russian Telegram channel Voin DV claimed that a Ukrainian assault between Zaporizhzhia villages Rabotyne and Verbove was effectively wiped out, with the AFU’s 65th Mechanized Brigade allegedly losing fifteen tanks, four infantry fighting vehicles and nine armored personnel carriers. “Evidence” backing up the claim included drone images without a clear date or location. Kyiv Post was unable to confirm the Voin DV claims.

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Ukraine’s Army General Staff in its Thursday morning situation report made practically no mention of ground fighting in the Zaporizhzhia sector, reporting AFU units “repelled” Russian attacks along the Orikhiv-Vasylivka line, and listing Russian artillery and shell strikes made against villages and positions over the past 24 hours. 

Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, in Wednesday evening remarks during a nationally televised news telethon, reiterated the longstanding official Kyiv narrative that, although military activity across the war’s 1,500 km. has been intensifying for some time, the big Ukrainian counteroffensive has not started. The national leadership will soon kick it off, he said.

“As for the offensive, it will take place according to our plan. When will be determined at the Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief,” Danilov said. “Let’s be patient and wait. We don’t have much time left to wait.”

A possible objective for Ukraine’s big offensive could be the town of Tokmak, an important Russian army logistics and supply hub to the south of Orikhiv. 

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The AFU for more than a month has increasingly targeted Russian artillery, according to most analysts as part of a strategy of weakening Kremlin forces’ ability to shoot back at a general offensive. By late May Ukrainian forces were claiming an average of 15-20 Russian howitzers or rocket launchers destroyed daily. 

Starting Monday, according to these official Ukrainian estimates, the pace of Russian artillery has spiked dramatically and, on some days, almost tripled, with 42 systems claimed put out of action on Monday, 41 on Tuesday and 29 on Wednesday.

Kyiv Post could not confirm the AFU estimates of Russian artillery losses, however, over the course of the war AFU estimates of Russian equipment losses have proved to be a relatively reliable measure of the intensity of fighting.

The Thursday Russian reports of multiple Ukrainian armored assaults with 20-25 combat vehicles in each column in the Orikhiv sector, if accurate, would mark an uptick in the scale of Ukrainian pressure against Russian lines.

On Monday and Tuesday, according to independent Ukrainian AFU units and according to reports from the scene an AFU attack column numbering 10-12 vehicles moved against Novodonetske, in the eastern Donbas sector, capturing part of the village.

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