Ukraine counteroffensive: Kiev says it has liberated villages in Donetsk region

Ukraine says it has liberated three villages in the country’s southeast in the first success of a much-anticipated counteroffensive.

Videos on social media showed Ukrainian troops celebrating in the neighboring settlements of Blahotadne and Neskuchne in Donetsk region.

Kyiv’s deputy defense minister said nearby Makarivka was also taken.

On Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that the counteroffensive had begun.

The three settlements would be the first to be liberated after his comments, but not the recapture of Ukraine since Monday, when pockets of its forces began advancing in the south of the country.

Moscow has yet to confirm the fall of any village, instead talking about repelling Ukrainian offensives in the region.

Elsewhere, Ukraine says Russia blew up another dam in the Zaporizhia region following Monday’s destruction of the massive Nova Khakovka, causing widespread flooding and mass evacuations. On Sunday, President Zelensky said 4,000 people had now been evacuated.

Ukraine says the dam was destroyed by Russian forces, who have controlled it since February 2022.

Ukrainian military spokesman Valery Shershen said Moscow’s forces had chosen to blow up a second dam near the village of Novodarivka, which “led to flooding on both banks of the Mokhri Yali River”.

Mr Shershen said Russia was deliberately blowing up dams in the area to prevent Ukraine from advancing towards the occupied territories.

Russia has denied blowing up the Nova Khakovka dam and instead blamed Ukraine.

‘Back under the Ukrainian flag’

And the State Border Guard released videos showing Kyiv’s forces announcing that “Neskuchne, Donetsk region is back under the Ukrainian flag,” before chanting the standard battle cry of “Glory to Ukraine.”

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WATCH: Video on social media showing Ukrainian flag raised in Neskuchnei, Donetsk Oblast

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s forces also captured the village of Makaryvka, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a Telegram video.

A military spokesman said the hits were the first local successes of the counteroffensive.

While the capture of three villages represents huge advances in recent days, settlements are relatively small. Blahodatne had a pre-war population of only 1,000.

The village, which has been the focus of intense fighting in recent days, sits on the road to the city of Mariupol, and some analysts have suggested that Ukraine may seek to retake the port city in the coming months.

Others have speculated that Kiev wants to break the land bridge between occupied Crimea and Donetsk, isolating Russian troops on the peninsula.

Further east, Ukrainian troops are also said to have advanced near the ruined city of Pakmut, the scene of a long and bloody battle between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops.

Senior officials in Kyiv declined to comment on the details of the advance.

On Monday, Ukraine’s civil servants said there had been 25 clashes in the past day.

Kyrillo Budanov, the enigmatic head of Ukraine’s intelligence service, released a video on Sunday.

The scale of Ukraine’s operations remains unclear, but the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US-based think tank, said on Saturday that Kiev’s forces were attacking at least four front-line areas.

Ukraine has experienced some setbacks when it comes to exploring Russian strongholds. A group of Ukrainian soldiers told the AFP news agency that they lost several new US-made Bradley fighting vehicles in an attack in southeastern Zaporizhia province on Thursday.

Six of the nine vehicles were vandalized and they said they feared someone had leaked their plans.

Analysts highlight the difficulties Ukraine faces in trying to penetrate the lines Russia has been reinforcing for months.

But in other areas, Kevin’s troops reportedly breached the front lines in mechanized attacks over the weekend, with German Panther-2 tanks reportedly deployed.

Meanwhile, in Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, a freight train derailed on Saturday night, disrupting rail traffic. Belgorod’s border areas have been hit by drone strikes, shelling and cross-border attacks in recent weeks.

Further north, Vladislav Shabsha, the governor of the Kaluga region, said there were two drone crashes – one near the village of Strelkovka and the other in the forest.

The BBC has not independently verified these incidents.

Additional reporting by Paul Adams.

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