KYIV, Ukraine – A month after the war began with widespread expectations of a quick defeat by Russia, the Ukrainian military is launching a counter-offensive that has changed the central dynamics of the fighting: The question of no It is not about how far the Russian forces have advanced, but whether the Ukrainians are now pushing them back.
Ukraine blew up a Russian helicopter parked to the south and on Thursday claimed to have destroyed a naval vessel in the Sea of Azov. Its forces attacked a Russian supply convoy to the northeast.
Western and Ukrainian officials also announced progress in the fierce fighting around the capital, Kyiv.
It is difficult to quantify or verify claimed profits in the territory. In at least one key battle on the outskirts of Kyiv, where Russian troops came closest to the capital, brutal street fighting continued on Thursday and it is unclear where Ukraine has regained ground. .
But even this tumultuous picture of Ukraine’s progress helps the country’s message to its people and to the world – that it is fighting an enemy of superior numbers and weapons, not just bow in defense. And it highlights the faulty planning and execution that weakened Russian forces in the first place, including the shortage of supplies and the low morale of their troops. Those mistakes created the conditions for Ukraine to suddenly attack.
In particular, by preventing the Russian army from taking Irpin, a suburban town about 12 kilometers from the center of Kyiv, Ukraine demonstrates the strategy of sending small units out of the capital to engage the Russian army, usually in ambushes, were successful. at least for now.
Western governments have made cautiously optimistic assessments of the counterattack. In an intelligence report released on Wednesday, the British Ministry of Defense said Ukraine’s moves were “increasing pressure” on the Russians east of Kyiv, and that Ukrainian troops “may have taken over the country”. back to Makariv” and another small town just north of the capital.
While noting the inconclusive state of the battle, the report raised what was called a “realistic possibility” that the Ukrainian counterattack could succeed in encircling and cutting off the line of communication. economic situation of the Russian invasion force in the region, this would be a clear tactical victory. for Ukraine. At the very least, it said, “successful Ukrainian counterattacks will disrupt the ability of Russian forces to reorganize and resume their offensive against Kyiv.”
During the counter-offensive around Kyiv, the Ukrainian military ordered lower-ranking commanders to devise counterattack strategies in ways suited to their locality. In many cases, this involved sending small infantry units on reconnaissance missions to search for and engage Russian forces that had attacked villages near Kyiv, one soldier on a mission said. Such service said over the weekend.
In the battles northwest of the capital, analysts say, time will be on Ukraine’s side. The Russian poles had run out of fuel and ammunition, intercepted radio transmissions showed. The soldiers had to sleep in the car for a month, in the freezing weather.
And military analysts have found this Russian offensive axis, although it is closest to central Kyiv, to be most troubled by defeats and logistical failures in combat.
Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va, said it is currently unknown which troops are actually advancing into the contested towns and villages, the war is here. is in a state of uncertainty.
More broadly, across the country, time is also on Ukraine’s side in at least stopping the original Russian invasion force. But this could change. That initial surge of patriotism can wane as the grim realities of war begin to unfold or as civilians begin to learn about Ukraine’s military losses, which little is known about.
“Our understanding of where we stand in this war is very incomplete, and we have to be honest about that,” Kofman said. “If you don’t know who controls what, you don’t know who is motivated on the ground.”
By Thursday, fierce fighting had ignited so many fires in towns around Kyiv that the city was enveloped in a eerie white smoke. But signs of actual progress on the ground are elusive. Ukrainian forces have been unable to prove that they control villages or towns previously held by Russian troops.
“They were fighting day and night and everything was on fire,” said Olha, 33, a salesman who fled Irpin on Wednesday night. She was interviewed at a relief station for displaced civilians, where continuous, pounding explosions could be heard from nearby fighting.
Earlier, on Wednesday, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitaly Klitschko, told a news conference that Ukrainian forces had practically repelled the Russians and that “almost all of Irpin is in Ukrainian hands.” Other Ukrainian and Western officials also give more optimistic accounts than can be verified from eyewitnesses.
Irpin’s deputy police chief, Oleksandr Bogai, said Russian troops remained in the town, occupying several districts and fighting Ukrainian forces. That was essentially the situation that lasted for nearly a month of the war. “There were big explosions and lots of smoke,” he said by phone. “Civilians are locked in basements. I don’t know exactly what’s going on.”
In Makariv, another battleground town west of Kyiv that Ukrainian officials claim to have recaptured this week, fighting is also ongoing, mayor Vadym Tokar said in a phone interview.
“I don’t understand where this nonsense is coming from,” he said of the report his town had been liberated. “It’s not like that. We have shelling and we have Russian tanks firing into town right now.”
To be sure, some official Western and Ukrainian accounts have also offered more measured assessments. The head of Kyiv’s regional military agency, Oleksandr Pavliuk, on Thursday said the counter-offensive had sought to “improve positions” in Irpin and Makariv, but did not assert control.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, announced the counterattack on March 16, after it became apparent that the Russian armored columns were bogged down, hampered by malfunctions. logistics and communications and suffered losses in ambushes.
Russian forces have continued to make advances in eastern Ukraine, where the country’s military announced on Thursday it has captured Izyum, a provincial town in the Kharkiv region that has been under attack for weeks. Ukraine denied it was captured. Both accounts cannot be independently verified.
Russo-Ukrainian War: Main developments
In the fighting around Kyiv, civilians displaced from the battle area paint a picture, not of liberated towns but of chaos, deadly violence.
Vladimir, 66, a retired furniture factory worker who refused to give his last name, walked out of Irpin on Thursday morning after his house burned down overnight.
“Nobody put out the fire,” he said. “My neighbor’s house was on fire and I saw sparks on my roof and then my house started burning.”
Without water for fire fighting, he could only watch. “We should never give up,” he said. “We will never live under the Russians again.”
There is also little sign that the Ukrainian government has set up even rudimentary civil services in the towns the country is trying to recapture.
A woman who also only gave her name, Elena, arrived at the aid station on the way to evacuate Irpin in tears, saying that neighbors helped her bury her adult son in her backyard because she was not at home. Which authority collects corpses?
“I just hope his grave won’t be destroyed” during the shelling, she said. “The men dug a grave in the garden among the roses, and put stones around it, and the cross on it.”
However, in a sign that the counter-offensive has pushed into areas previously controlled by Russian troops, a Ukrainian unit that specializes in retrieving soldiers killed from the battlefield has also recovered the bodies of Russian soldiers. Russian troops in towns around Kyiv, according to Serhiy Lysenko, the unit. command.
He declined to say which towns he worked in. For now, he said in a phone interview, they are leaving the Russian bodies on the spot, not wanting to risk any more to get them.
“It is clear that now Russia cannot achieve its original political goals in this war,” said Kofman, from the think tank CNA. He said Russia must change its goals or change its military strategy “if it wants to sustain this war on a larger scale in the coming weeks.”
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.