Following a high-profile visit by President Zelensky, troops deployed to the east of Ukraine’s main counterattack sector launched a new series of assaults and are gaining ground, according to reports from both Ukrainian and Russian sources.

Close-in assaults by Ukrainian Marine brigades under the new regional command, said to be operating south of the town Velyka Novosilka, have broken through Russian fortifications around the village of Novodonetske and are advancing. This was reported by Kremlin-affiliated military information platforms and the pro-Moscow “combat correspondent” Vladimir Rogov reported “Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) have achieved tactical success.”

Russian troops stationed in the village of Novomaiorske, five kilometers east of Novodonetske, had withdrawn following very heavy Ukrainian artillery bombardment using cluster munitions, the government-linked Ukrainian military analyst Anton Geraschenko reported on his personal Telegram channel.

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Russian military blogger Aleksandr Khodakovsky, a former Ukrainian special forces officer who transferred allegiance to Russia in 2014, said punishing Ukrainian artillery fire which outranged Russian guns allowed Kyiv’s forces to detonate defensive minefields and launch ground assaults with few Ukrainian casualties.

“After several days of artillery preparation, the enemy moved on to offensive operations in the Novodonetske - Novomaiorske sector…such intensive artillery work led to the fact that [Russian] minefields lost their effectiveness, and the continuous shelling made it impossible for [Russian] sappers to lay [replacement] mines and restore what was destroyed. As a result, the enemy was able to come close to our positions, and unload their infantry almost without suffering losses,” Khodakovsky wrote in his personal Telegram channel, on Tuesday.

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Ukrainian control of the twin villages, each containing a key road bridge across the Shaitanka River, could provide Kyiv with greater momentum for its slow-moving counteroffensive against Russian forces on the southern front with a new axis of advance that could bypass its fortifications elsewhere. Launched in early June, Kyiv’s counter-offensive has advanced in key sectors about ten kilometers after three months of fighting.

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Ukrainian control of the Novomaiorske-Novodonetske bridgehead has not been confirmed by all sources, some say fighting continues around Novomaiorske. The usually reliable Ukrainian military information platform DeepStateMap reported contact battles had taken place at both locations “and results are unclear”. The pro-Russian “military correspondent” Simon Pegov said of the Ukrainian attacks against the two villages “they [the AFU] have made moderate progress”.

The increase in Ukrainian offensive efforts, and the widely-confirmed reports of intensified Ukrainian artillery fire in the Velyka Novosilka sector, followed a Sep. 4 whirlwind tour by Ukraine’s leader to brigade command posts near the front line from which AFU launched its new attacks. Zelensky handed out medals and praised soldiers during visits to multiple units which, he said, were the reason Ukraine’s multi-axis offensive strategy against Russia was succeeding.

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At an awards ceremony at the 36th Marine Brigade headquarters, the President singled out brigade commander Viktor Sikoza for his “personal leadership” during counter-offensive operations.

According to publicity statements published by Zelensky’s office – independent media were banned from Presidential meetings with troops – the 36th and other major formations in the southern Donetsk region are operating as a single, unified formation along a major axis of attack. This South Donetsk Operational Group (SDOG), as it is described on the Presidential website, is a major new AFU operational command headquarters, similar to headquarters currently heading up large-scale Ukrainian offensive operations in the Kherson and Kharkiv sectors.

The independent news magazine Ukrainska Pravda said the SDOG was directing the offensive operations of three Marine Brigades, two Mechanized Brigades, one Air Assault Brigade, one Artillery brigade and one Territorial infantry Brigade. Other sources have identified that a second artillery brigade and a motorized brigade may also be operating in the vicinity.

The AFU does not publicize unit personnel and equipment strengths. On paper, the formations described in the Ukrainska Pravda and other reports would constitute a major grouping of as many as 15-20,000 men, 700-1,000 armored vehicles, and 400-600 artillery pieces. If committed to battle it could place severe pressure on Russian defenses in the vicinity, and possibly breaking them.

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One unit reportedly deployed as part of that force, the 109th Territorial Defense Brigade, is an infantry unit comprising volunteers from Ukraine’s Donetsk region, a territory partially occupied by Russian troops since 2014. Images published on the President’s office showed a ceremony during which Zelensky signed the unit’s battle flag and wished fighters good luck.

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