The Daily Telegraph

Ukrainian forces gain ground near Kharkiv

Russia caught off-guard by lightning offensive in the east as Ukraine looks to cut off Kremlin officers

- By Roland Oliphant SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPOND­ENT

Ukrainian forces yesterday recaptured at least two villages in a surprise offensive that broke through Russian front line south of Kharkiv. The advances would put Ukrainian soldiers at least a dozen miles behind Russian lines and position them to threaten a key supply line to the Russian forces in the northern Donbas region. Sources reported the capture of the settlement­s of Verbivka and Volokhiv Yar, and said Kyiv’s forces had “operationa­lly surrounded” the town of Balakliya.

UKRAINIAN forces yesterday recaptured at least two villages in a surprise offensive that broke through Russian front lines south of Kharkiv.

Both Ukrainian and Russian sources reported the capture of the settlement­s of Verbivka and Volokhiv Yar, and said Kyiv’s forces had “operationa­lly surrounded” the town of Balakliya.

The advances, which were not officially confirmed at first by either side, would put Ukrainian soldiers at least a dozen miles behind the Russian front line and in position to threaten a supply line to the Russians in northern Donbas.

Ukraine’s army and government did not announce the assault that is reported to have begun near Balakliya on Tuesday, and have refused to comment on its progress or objectives.

However, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed last night that his troops had recaptured several settlement­s in the region.

“This week we have good news from the Kharkiv region,” Mr Zelensky said.

The president declined to name the settlement­s, saying “now is not the right time”.

In Washington, a senior Pentagon official offered an optimistic outlook for Mr Zelensky in the south of the country.

“They’ve done a lot of damage to the Russian forces there,” said Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy official.

Mr Kahl acknowledg­ed Ukraine had begun a “counteroff­ensive” in Kherson, on the Black Sea. US defence officials had previously declined to characteri­se the operation.

“It is early days ... but I certainly think things are going better on the Ukrainian side right now in the south than is true on the Russian side,” Mr Kahl told an event hosted by Defense News.

An official speaking on condition of anonymity said the offensive had been long planned and was designed to catch the Russians off guard while their generals were concentrat­ing on containing Ukraine’s offensive around Kherson.

“The Russians sort of expected it down there, and part of it is to attack them seemingly independen­tly but in different locations so they never know where,” the source said.

“The first objective is to throw the Russians out of Kharkiv region and the second objective is to create a platform to start approachin­g Izyum. So far it has been pretty successful.”

Pro-ukrainian bloggers posted videos yesterday claiming to show Ukrainian troops in Verbivka and in Volokhiv Yar. One showed them taking a prisoner who said he was from Alchevsk, a town in Ukraine’s Luhansk region.

The official source said two Russian SU-25 aircraft had been shot down. The Daily Telegraph could not independen­tly confirm the claim.

Alexander Kots, a war correspond­ent for Komsomolsk­aya Pravda, a Russian tabloid, wrote on his Telegram channel that the Ukrainians were probably seeking to cut off the main Russian command centre in this part of the front.

“If the enemy moves through Shevchenko­ve to Kupiansk, the Izyum grouping will be cut off from the [Russian] mainland,” he wrote. He said the Russians should consider withdrawin­g eastwards to avoid encircleme­nt.

Izyum, a key junction on the border of the Kharkiv and Donbas regions, was captured by the Russians in March. Its loss would allow the Ukrainians to ease pressure on Sloviansk, guarding the northern flank of the Donbas salient.

In London, the Ministry of Defence said there was “heavy fighting” in Kherson, Donbas and Kharkiv. “Multiple concurrent threats across 500km will test Russia’s ability to co-ordinate operationa­l design and reallocate resources across many groupings,” it said.

Konrad Muzyka, of Rochan Consulting, said Russia had deployed most of its leading troops to Kherson, leaving Wagner mercenarie­s and soldiers from the Luhansk and Donetsk puppet states to hold Donbas.

He said the informatio­n blackout means it is too early to assess the scale of the Kharkiv operation.

“In general we are probably looking at a stalemate,” he said of the tempo of the war.

“However, we are probably seeing the first evidence that the balance is slowly shifting to Ukraine’s favour.”

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