The Ukrainian military announced Monday it had begun large-scale offensive operations in the southern region of Ukraine, a long-anticipated bid to retake territory lost to Russia early in the war.
Ukraine had begun “shaping” the battleground in the area around the city of Kherson by targeting ammunition storehouses and weapons systems ahead of a planned counteroffensive, CNN reported Monday morning, citing two senior U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence. Fighting in the eastern Donbas region has ground to an attrition war, but Ukrainian leaders have long advertised their intent to recapture Russian-occupied territory in the south, according to The New York Times.
“Yes, [Ukrainian forces] have started the offensive actions in several directions on the South front towards liberating the occupied territories,” Ukraine Operational Command South spokesperson Natalia Humeniuk told CNN.
Fighting occurred in multiple locations near the front lines of the Kherson region Monday, according to the NYT. The Ukrainian government claimed the military “breached the occupiers’ first line of defense” and struck a Russian military base.
The Ukrainian troops wrested four villages in the region from the Russians during Monday’s offensive, with Kherson as the final target, a Ukrainian military source told CNN.
Russian media also reported a multi-directional Ukrainian offensive operation, claiming the Ukrainian military suffered significant tank and troop losses when met with Russian defenses, according to the BBC.
“We don’t know for sure yet whether or not this is indeed the beginning of a Ukrainian counteroffensive or the latest step in ‘shaping operations’ to set the conditions for a future counteroffensive,” retired Lt. Gen Ben Hodges told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The Pentagon was not confident Ukrainian forces had the capability to push back Russian forces, a U.S. defense official told the NYT.
The front lines have changed little over the past few months, with each side taking and subsequently losing bits of territory. Ukraine has also repeatedly struck targets in Russian-controlled territory, including in Crimea, which Russia occupied in 2014.
The White House refrained from making a public assessment of Ukrainian offensive operations but noted that Russian forces had relocated forces from the Donbas to the South in anticipation of intensifying Ukrainian operations in Kherson, CNN reported.
“We don’t know and shouldn’t know [the Ukrainians’] specific plans… otherwise the Russians would obviously know,” Hodges told the DCNF. “I believe they have resisted the urge to push all new troops and tanks and other equipment into the current attrition, which would have ground them down.”
“Instead, they are probably building up the capability to launch a major strike—when they are ready,” he added.
Kherson’s eponymous capital fell to Russian forces early in the war.
Putin has not given up his objective of capturing all of Ukraine, the Pentagon assessed in a briefing Wednesday. In addition, Zelenskyy reiterated his determination to reunite all 24 regions of Ukraine, including Russian-occupied Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under Russia’s attested control, in a Wednesday address.
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