- Antoinette Radford and Adam Durbin
May 12, 2023, 12:26 GMT
Ukraine said it had regained control of territory in Bakhmut, in a rare advance after months of fending off Russian advances and gains in the eastern city.
Anna Malyar, deputy defense minister, said Ukrainian forces had advanced two kilometers in a week.
The situation in Bakhmut is reported to have changed, but there is no clear evidence that the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-attack has been launched.
Russia denied news of Ukraine’s gains, and the Russian Defense Ministry said: “Individual statements on Telegram about (hacking) several points on the front line do not correspond to reality.”
“The general situation in the area of special military operations is under control,” she added, which is the term Russia uses to refer to the invasion.
With fierce bloody battles raging, Bakhmut became an important city symbolically, though many experts question its tactical value.
Malyar said in a post on Telegram that Bakhmut had become a target of “almost sacred” importance for Russia.
At the same time, the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense accused the Kremlin of claiming unreal gains on the one hand, and spreading lies about the lack of weapons and ammunition on the other hand.
Describing the “real situation” over the past week, Malyar said that Russia had suffered heavy losses in forces, while Ukraine had advanced two kilometers without losing any positions.
On Thursday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the “Wagner” group of mercenaries on the Russian side, accused the regular Russian forces of abandoning positions in Bakhmut.
He said, “The situation on the army’s flanks is developing according to the expected worst-case scenario.”
Russian military bloggers also talked about Ukrainian advances or troop movements in several areas.
The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, said Ukrainian forces likely made gains about 2 km away, in Bakhmut.
He added that the Russian Ministry of Defense’s acknowledgment of “Ukrainian counter-attacks with unusual speed”, while denying it, indicates “extreme panic”.--
In contrast to the situation in Bakhmut, the exiled mayor of Melitopol reported a large explosion on Friday morning in the center of the city in the southeast of the country, which has been occupied by Russia since the beginning of the war.
The cause of the explosion was not known, but the Ukrainian Air Force said that on Thursday it launched 14 raids on Russian forces and their military equipment.
In addition to the airstrikes, Ukraine said it destroyed nine Russian drones and launched successful attacks on dozens of military targets, including artillery units, an ammunition depot and air defense equipment.
After months of stalemate, there were public discussions about a Ukrainian counterattack, with the help of newly arrived Western weapons, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that it was too early to launch an offensive.
“With (what we have already achieved) we can move forward, and I think we will succeed,” he added in an interview.
“But we will lose a lot of people. I think this is unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need more time,” Zelensky said.
Despite the Ukrainian president’s remarks, Sasha Coats, a pro-Kremlin Russian war correspondent, said the counterattack had begun.
He said, citing “reliable” sources, that the Ukrainian tanks were on the Kharkiv ring road heading towards the border with Russia, but his claims could not be independently verified.
Coates added: “There are lines of tankers carrying Western models (tanks), among other models.”
He said, “In other words, Kiev decided to escalate the situation along the northern front, coinciding with the start of offensive operations on the flanks of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut).”
Alexander Simonov, another Russian war correspondent, wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian forces had penetrated an area near the village of Bohdanivka, not far from Bakhmut, and captured “several square kilometers” of land.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleksandr Musiyevenko said Kiev realized that the expected counteroffensive might not necessarily defeat Russia “in all occupied areas”.
He added to the Ukrainian radio “NV” that there are great possibilities for the continuation of the war during the next year, and said: “It all depends on how the battles will develop. We cannot guarantee how the counter-offensive will develop.”
A senior US military official, who was not named, told CNN that Ukrainian forces are preparing for a major counterattack by striking targets such as weapons depots, command centers, armor systems and artillery.
Earlier in the spring of 2022, Ukrainian forces had made progress in the southern and northeastern regions of the country, by launching air strikes aimed at “creating” the battlefield.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had repelled several Ukrainian attacks throughout Thursday, and added that the ongoing battle near Malynivka in eastern Donetsk involved air forces and artillery.