Relatively small but potentially significant gains in four areas of the 1,000-kilometer-long frontline have been made by Ukraine during the first week of a new phase of its counteroffensive to recapture Russian-occupied territories.
Ukrainian offensive action has predominantly taken the form of probing attacks by mechanized infantry units, some newly trained by NATO allies, using new Western military equipment, including tanks and fighting vehicles.
It has been focused on: an area of the Zaporizhzhia/Donetsk Oblast administrative boundary; southwestern Zaporizhzhia oblast; and the long-fought areas around Bakhmut and Avdiivka in central Donetsk oblast.
Ukrainian losses for the first week of the new phase of the counteroffensive are unknown, but media have visually verified the permanent or temporary loss of at least 10 Ukrainian fighting vehicles.
The Ukrainian military issues no information on losses and generally does not comment on tactical aspects of operations that are underway, but some local units provide unattributed information.
Zaporizhzhia/Donetsk administrative boundary
Near the Zaporizhzhia/Donetsk administrative boundary, on Sunday, the settlements of Neskuchne, Storozheve, Blahodatne, and Makarivka were captured by Ukrainian forces.
The four villages are along a five kilometer stretch near the TO518 road in western Donetsk oblast. The TO518 and a parallel local road run north-south in the direction of Mariupol which is some 125 kilometers south.
The push in this area could be the start of a potential Ukrainian thrust to cut the Russian-occupied land corridor that runs along the Sea of Azov from Russia itself in the east to Russian-occupied Crimea in the west and includes Mariupol.
“The settlements of Blahodatne and Makarivka were deoccupied,” said Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, on Telegram.
I’m glued to the screen, watching Ukrainian flags rising.— Maria Avdeeva (@maria_avdv) June 11, 2023
Blahodatne 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/XPEGE35Bsa
The Ukrainian Volunteer Army claimed it had captured nearby Neskuchne and posted Facebook videos to the effect. The Deputy Minister also separately claimed Ukrainian forces had captured Storozheve.
The claims about Blahodatne, Makarivka and Neskuchne villages were confirmed by Russian milbloggers, who acknowledged the Ukrainian advance and the failure of Russian army attempted counterattacks.
Storozhevo is located between Neskuchne and Blahodatne and, therefore, has most likely been recaptured as well. The villages lie directly south of Velyka Novosilka, where the Ukrainians launched the first attacks of their new phase a week ago.
Within this overall area, Malyar also claimed that Novodarivka, some 10 kilometers to the west of the TO518 in eastern Zaporizhzhia, was recaptured, but there was no confirmation.
In southwestern Zaporizhzhia, the Institute for the Study of War reported Ukrainian advances south of Orikhiv and south of Lobkove.
The southwestern Zaporizhzhia push, which has not reported any significant gains to date, is about 100 kilometers to the west of the apparently successful push along the TO518.
If it were to materialize, it could constitute the other half of a potential pincer movement against Russian positions on the land corridor.
However, it has been slow going in this area thus far. On Thursday, the 47th Brigade, a newly trained and equipped Ukrainian unit, came under a Russian drone ambush and lost significant equipment. Members of the unit taking a break from the fighting told AFP they had lost most of their American-supplied Bradley fighting vehicles.
They reported six were wrecked and three damaged but reparable. It should be noted that these were not the only vehicles in the 47th Brigade.
The group said Russian forces had been forewarned, having taunted the Ukrainians the night before the battle over their radios, and Ukrainian troops suspected someone had leaked information.
Asked whether they had captured any ground despite coming under such heavy fire, one of the soldiers held up his finger and thumb in a gesture to indicate very small progress.
“When our Bradleys are repaired, we’ll be right back at them,” another said to AFP.
No casualty figure has been released, but AFP was told that the number was less than some initially feared, as the vehicles had provided protection even after being disabled.
“Who would be happy receiving those orders, ‘Go and take those Russian positions which are well protected’?” a senior officer, who asked not to be identified, said.
“But we still have that fury, we’ve no choice but to succeed.”
Two central Donetsk battlegrounds
In central Donetsk, Ukrainian military spokespeople also claimed to have gained further ground in both Bakhmut and Avdiivka which have been contested for many months.
At Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces reportedly advanced up to 1.4 kilometers in a number of sections of that frontline, according to Serhiy Cherevaty, the spokesman for Ukrainian military forces in the east. At Avdiivka, the 59th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade claimed to capture Russian positions and released a video.
At the same time in the central Donetsk zone, Russian forces undertook counterattacks near long-combatted Maryinka in central Donetsk, according to Ukraine’s deputy defense minister.
Russian offensive assaults were also reported near Kupiansk (Kharkiv Oblast) and Kreminna (Luhansk Oblast), which would have the effect of stretching Ukrainian forces to the north.
Shaping operations and other action
In other military activity, in a sign of continued “shaping operations” by Ukrainian forces, Russian administrative spokespeople reported explosions in occupied Tokmak and Melitopol.
Both are within the strategic land corridor and are important logistical points for Russian resupply. Ukrainian forces also continued to target Russian rear areas in Luhansk Oblast.
Russian sources Miroshnik claimed that Ukrainian forces struck Russian positions near Lysychansk (15 kilometers southwest of Kreminna) 15 times over the past week.
Russian sources further claimed that Russian air defenses intercepted a Ukrainian missile targeting administrative buildings in the city of Luhansk on June 9.
There were also reports of Ukrainian partisans disabling railway lines used by the Russian army to move equipment and supplies.
Near simultaneous explosions were reported on railway lines in Crimea’s Kirovsky district and at Yakymivka in Zaporizhzhia Oblast on Sunday. The Russian defense ministry said that its Priazovye reconnaissance ship had been forced to fight off a swarm of boat drones 200 miles southeast of its base in Crimea on the southern fringe of the Black Sea.
Fighting, initiated by pro-Ukraine Russian forces, appears to be continuing in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast.
Reports from the Russian town of Shebekino have said that almost all of its 45,000 residents have fled for the oblast’s capital.
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