Kiev: The UK’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday said it was unclear how far Ukrainian troops have pushed into territory held by Russian forces, as Kiev’s long-threatened southern counter-offensive got underway.
“Several brigades of the Ukrainian Armed Forces increased the weight of artillery fires in front line sectors across southern Ukraine,” the Ministry said in its intelligence update on the war.
“Ukrainian long-range precision strikes continue to disrupt Russian resupply (lines),” which the UK described as “fragile”, reports dpa news agency.
But it cautioned that it was “not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances”.
Half a year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the military leadership in Kiev signalled on Monday it was beginning operations to retake areas across the south while releasing few details.
The Russians’ outermost line of defence in the Kherson region has been breached in several places, the Ukrainian military said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky only hinted about the offensive in his nightly address on Monday evening, saying it would be irresponsible to speak about “specifics”.
“But the occupiers should know: we will oust them to the border. To our border, the line of which has not changed. The invaders know it well.”
He called on the Russian military “to flee” and “go home”.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby pointed out that Ukraine has for weeks been telegraphing and preparing for the counter-offensive in the south, which has forced Russia to pull resources and troops from the eastern Donbas region.
The major city of Kherson on the right bank of the Dnipro river had been captured by Russian troops advancing from the Crimean Peninsula at the very beginning of the invasion in February.
Ukraine is under time pressure because Russia wants to annex the conquered territories and suggested holding referenda in September.
Still, there were few confirmed details about the offensive, with the Ukraine’s Southern Defence Forces saying Monday only that troops broke through Russian front lines in Kherson, whose administrative centre is the city of the same name.
The army said units of Donetsk separatists and Russian marines had been forced to retreat.
Moscow has denied this, saying Ukrainian troops were not only repelled but suffered heavy losses.
Explosions were also reported late Monday from Kherson the city of Melitopol, which is also Russian-occupied.
Ukrainian authorities urged people to leave the occupied areas if possible.
If this is not possible, they should stock up on food and water and seek shelter in permanent buildings.