Ukrainian forces stepped up their major offensive yesterday using Western tanks to pound the Russian frontline in the war-torn country.
In the heaviest fighting since kyiv launched its bid to liberate the occupied territories, Ukrainian artillery “came in waves” according to Russian sources.
The sudden upsurge in military activity followed Ukrainian reconnaissance or “shaping” missions to identify weaknesses in Russian defences.
US officials also confirmed that the engagements in the Zaporizhzhia region appeared to be the start of a main thrust.
The heavy fighting resulted in casualties on both sides and US officials added that the Russians put up “fierce resistance”.
On Thursday, Ukrainian soldiers fire grenade launchers at Russian positions on the frontline near Kreminna in the Luhansk region
Ukrainian soldiers work during a combat operation on the front line near Kreminna, Luhansk region yesterday
Unconfirmed footage on Russian social media platforms appears to show the destruction of German-made Leopard tanks.
Last night, the Ukrainian government provided few details about the long-awaited counter-offensive.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed that fighting was taking place: “Battles continue for Velyka Novosilka in the direction of Novopavlovsk. In the Orikhiv region, the enemy is already on the defensive.
But some Russian sources were skeptical of the claim, with Vladimir Romanov – a Crimean-based military blogger – saying the clashes so far were just “active investigations” and that Russian troops were “sufficiently prepared” to the counter-offensive.
Russian blogger Zapiski Veterana (Notes from a Veteran) said: “I think we can already talk about the start of the long-announced offensive by Ukraine.
“There hasn’t been such a movement on the front for a long time. The Ukrainians arrived in waves.
The angle of the attacks suggested that Ukraine’s objective priority was to break through the Russian defenses to reach the cities of Tokmak, Melitopol and Berdyansk on the Black Sea coast and cut off the Crimean peninsula.
Veterana added: “All their [Ukrainian] the forces are launched forward. The enemy succeeded in seizing several heights but he did not achieve a deep breakthrough.
A third advance around the heavily shelled settlement of Bakhmut also took place yesterday, with Ukrainian sources saying his troops had gained a mile of ground around the town.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a video address that around 1,500 Ukrainian troops participated, attacking from four directions.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, hosts a videoconference yesterday with members of the new international group of experts on Russian ecocide
A British Challenger 2 tank which was sent by the UK to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia
Ukraine’s increased tempo of operations came as at least one person was killed after Russia shelled the flooded area of Kherson.
Thousands of homes remained underwater last night following explosions at the nearby Kakhovaka dam.
The civilian died and at least eight others were injured after the Kremlin targeted fleeing evacuees following Tuesday’s blasts, which have been described as the biggest environmental disaster since Chernobyl.
The death was confirmed by the prosecutor’s office in Kherson, 37 miles downriver from the dam.
The victims were moved from a submerged neighborhood by the waters released when the shelling took place. Unconfirmed reports from Ukraine this afternoon also suggest some people drowned.
Russian shells also nearly killed the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine who was visiting the disaster area today. He was forced to dive for cover while conducting television interviews.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said: “The shelling began precisely during the evacuation of citizens whose houses were flooded. And it continues to prevent Ukraine from saving the most precious human lives.
Moscow continues to deny responsibility for the explosions that drove 20,000 people from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians also face the threat of serious illness from pollution caused by the blasts.
Grain fields in large parts of southern Ukraine could also be turned into deserts as they will be deprived of irrigation previously provided by the dam on the Dnipro. Ukraine is one of the largest grain exporters in the world.
People help an elderly man into a boat during the evacuation of a flooded neighborhood in Kherson
A church surrounded by water in a flooded district of Kherson after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam
The threat of landmine explosions also remains, according to the Red Cross. The ordnance, planted by Russian forces, will be a danger to civilians in the region “for decades”, the agency said today.
During a visit to Kherson today, Volodymyr Zelensky criticized the international response to the incident, particularly the United Nations which is tasked with providing relief after the floods.
Ukraine’s president praised rescuers for their exhaustive efforts and said today’s priority was to “protect lives”.
He said to them, “You are now passing through this difficult trial. We will help you and rebuild everything that needs to be restored. Thank you and wish you good health.
An estimated 250 square miles of land is currently under water. Most of the affected territory is in the Russian-occupied parts of the Kherson region.