Ukrainian forces have fought their way back into territory in eastern Ukraine, officials said Tuesday, recapturing areas lost during months of relentless shelling by Russian artillery. It is part of a remarkable turnaround from June, when the Ukrainian army was almost out of ammunition and struggling to contain the Russian offensive.
A Ukrainian official said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had recaptured Bilohorivka, a coal-mining town on the banks of the Siversky Donets River that was the scene in May of one of the war’s deadliest engagements for Russian forces.
The Ukrainian military was more cautious in declaring victory in Bilohorivka, as control over towns and villages has proven tenuous in the past. But even if it is only a small village, it would be a potent signal that Russia no longer has full control over the Luhansk region, which, along with Donetsk, makes up the Donbas, the main declared targets of the Kremlin’s war effort.
“Our defenders have pushed the attackers out and are in full control of the city,” said Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, although he noted that it was still under artillery fire and had been largely razed by the Russians. .
“There are several cities like this in Luhansk province,” he said.
He had said in earlier comments that there would be “a fierce battle for every centimeter of Luhansk land.”
In neighboring Donetsk region, several Russian war bloggers reported that Ukrainian forces attacked the strategically important town of Lyman, which also fell to the Russians in May, from two directions.
“We have losses,” reported War Gonzo, one Russian military blogger who has more than a million followers. “We are holding on and fighting with all our might.”
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, said Monday that Ukrainian forces had gained two footholds on the left bank of the Oskil River, which retreating Russian forces had hoped to use as a natural defensive barrier.
Several villages in the direction of Lyman are now under the control of the Ukrainian military, he said, and Lyman is in imminent danger of being encircled.
The claims by both the Russians and the Ukrainians – which come after a Ukrainian breakthrough in the northeast this month after months of war – could not be immediately confirmed, but they both painted a similar picture of Ukrainian progress and were supported by satellite and geo-located war footage.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his evening speech on Monday announced efforts to secure the newly recaptured eastern territory, even as he stressed the importance of continuing to make rapid progress to deny Russia “any foothold on Ukrainian soil.”
“The pace is very important now – the pace of stabilization in the liberated areas, the pace of the movement of our troops, the pace of the restoration of normal life in the liberated territory,” said Mr. Zelensky.
An influx of Western weapons has allowed Ukraine to move from defensive to offensive operations, but it remained unclear whether they could sustain their advance as Russian forces regroup and withdraw to more heavily fortified defensive positions. Mr. Zelensky said the pace of aid from Ukraine’s Western allies was necessary to keep up with Ukraine’s military advance.
A senior US Defense Department official told reporters on Monday that the Pentagon was open to potentially sending Western tanks to Kiev. And British Prime Minister Liz Truss pledged to continue her country’s military support for Ukraine next year, pledging to match this year’s spending of more than $2.6 billion.
Ukraine’s military noted that Russia remained focused on taking the entire Donetsk region and maintaining control over the territory it has taken. At the same time, Ukrainian officials said Russia had launched missile strikes, airstrikes and rocket attacks across Ukraine, including targeting civilian infrastructure.