Ukraine claims gains near Bakhmut as battle rages in east

Russia says Ukraine has started a long-expected counteroffensive but denies Kyiv made gains along the front lines.

Ukraine has reported heavy fighting in the eastern region of Donetsk as its forces made gains near the devastated city of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russia last month, but Moscow said Kyiv’s forces had failed to advance anywhere on the front lines.

Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesperson for Ukraine’s east military command said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had advanced 1.2km (0.75 miles) near Bakhmut over the past 24 hours.

“We took advantage of the enemy’s rotation measures and the fact that units which entered do not know the area fully, and failed to conduct appropriate reconnaissance and coordination. We struck,” he told Ukrainian television. “We have been carrying out assaults for several days.”

Meanwhile, at least three people have been killed in an overnight Russian drone and missile attack in the Black Sea port of Odesa, the city’s military command said on Saturday, adding that eight Russian drones and two missiles were shot down.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on the Telegram messaging app: “The situation is tense on all areas of the front.”

Naming eastern areas where fighting has been fierce for months, she said: “The enemy continues to focus its main efforts on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivsky and Mariinka directions, heavy fighting continues.”

She said Ukrainian troops were repelling the Russian attacks.

Over the past several days, Ukrainian forces have made their most rapid gains around the edges of Bakhmut, aiming to encircle the eastern city devastated by months of war.

Long-expected counteroffensive

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Ukrainian troops started a long-expected counteroffensive and were suffering “significant” losses in their efforts to punch through Moscow’s defence lines in Ukraine.

“Not in any of the directions have they achieved their goals, this is obvious,” he said.

Russia’s defence ministry said it was continuing to repel Ukrainian attacks in the southern region of Zaporizhia, Russian news agencies reported. Moscow controls large parts of Zaporizhia region – home to Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukrainian officials made little mention of the situation in Zaporizhia but the head of the president’s office said a junior nurse and a plumber had been killed by Russian shelling of a hospital in Huliaipole in the region.

Journalist Daniel Hawkins in Moscow told Al Jazeera that while Ukraine has been tight-lipped, “Moscow has been all too willing to provide updates on front-line events over the last 72 hours.”

Hawkins said videos have emerged of Germany’s Leopard tanks and the United States’ Bradley Fighting Vehicles destroyed in Zaporizhia.

“Battles are going to be ongoing for the next few days as Ukrainian forces probe Russian defences and try to break through,” he said.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Saturday that he planned to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone soon, to urge him to withdraw troops from Ukraine.