As Ukraine intensifies its offensive to retake Russian-occupied territory in the south of the country, its forces recaptured four villages and broke through Russian defenses at several points of the front line in the Kherson regionaccording to Ukrainian officials.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also issued a warning to Russian forces during his evening speech on Monday, saying it was time for them to “run away, go home” and that “the occupiers must know that we we will continue to the border”.
Yet one of his advisers warned that the operation would be slow, it would “crush the enemy”.
“This process will not be very quick,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the chief of staff of the Ukrainian president, in a statement posted on Telegram on Monday evening, “but will end with the installation of the Ukrainian flag on all the settlements of Ukraine.
“[The Ukrainian Armed Forces] broke through the frontline in several areas,” Arestovych said in a video interview posted on YouTube, adding that Ukrainian forces were shelling ferry crossings that Moscow uses to resupply Russian-occupied territory on the Dnipro River in Kherson region.
“We are cracking down on their attempts to supply their groups in the West Bank [of the Dnipro],” he said. “We are hitting the reserves, including the reserves that are on the east bank and trying to cross.”
Earlier Monday, a Ukrainian military source told CNN that Ukrainian troops had recaptured four villages – Novodmytrivka, Arkhanhel’s’ke, Tomyna Balka and Pravdyne – from Russian occupation, adding that the main target was the city of Kherson.
“The operation began at night with a heavy shelling of Russian positions and the rear,” the source, who was not named for security reasons, told CNN.
The Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged the Kyiv operation, but said Ukrainian troops had “suffered heavy casualties” and “failed miserably” in their “attempt” to offensive. CNN was unable to verify the Russian and Ukrainian claims.
The Kherson region, crucial for controlling Ukraine’s southern coast and access to the Black Sea, was one of the first areas to be occupied by Russian forces when they invaded more than six months ago .
In recent weeks, Ukrainian forces have made advances around Kherson, including the targeting critical bridges to disrupt Russian supply routes.
At a briefing on Tuesday, Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for the Ukrainian army’s Southern Operational Command, said damage to bridges over the Dnipro River means Russian forces are unable to help units on the lines of northern front.
“Now they [the Russians] lack the transport capacity to draw reserves from the left bank. Therefore, they create the illusion of drawing reserves by moving military units between settlements… All bridges have been worked by us as impassable,” she said.
“They can keep trying to set up a ferry or a pontoon, but the whole area where it can be deployed is also under our fire control and will be hit.”
Ukrainian forces also launched an attack on the Russian town of Nova Kakhovka on Monday, cutting off its electricity and water supply, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti, which cited a Russian-appointed local authority.
RIA quoted the head of the city’s civil-military administration, Vladimir Leontyev, as saying that the consequences of the strike “will probably be terrible”.
“You can’t leave now. There was a lot of shelling, something exploded. There were strikes in the city and near the hydroelectric plant. We can see fire in both places,” Leontyev added.
The counter-offensive comes as a delegation of 14 international security experts International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Kyiv ahead of a scheduled visit to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine later this week.
The nuclear power plant, which is the largest in Europe, has been under Russian control since March. Clashes around the compound have sparked widespread concern and fears of disaster.
Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russian forces of stockpiling heavy weapons inside the complex and using them as cover to launch attacks, knowing that Ukraine cannot retaliate without risking hitting one of the six reactors of the central. Russia claimed it had no “heavy weapons” at the nuclear power plant.
Satellite images from Maxar Technologies showed four holes in the roof of the factory building, near at least three Russian armored personnel carriers.
In satellite images, at least three Russian armored personnel carriers are seen sitting under a large structure with pipes, which supply the building’s six nuclear reactors.
The Russian-appointed leader for the Zaporizhzhia region, Vladimir Rogov, claimed the holes were the result of a Ukrainian military strike on the compound.
CNN geotagged and confirmed the authenticity of the photos, but not claims that the holes were the result of a Ukrainian military strike.
Ukraine and Russia continued Tuesday to accuse each other of bombing the area around the plant. CNN is unable to verify who is responsible.
Russian authorities – who now control the plant and the nearby town of Enerhodar – reported artillery strikes early Tuesday morning near a spent fuel storage building.
Kyiv blamed Moscow for the attack. Russia “deliberately bombs corridors to [the] IAEA mission to achieve the ZNPP [the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant]Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of Zelensky’s office, alleged in a tweet reiterating Ukrainian demands for Russian troops to withdraw from the plant.
Concerns about a possible nuclear accident led authorities in the city of Zaporizhzhia to distribute iodine pills to residents. On Tuesday, the European Union announced it was donating 5.5 million potassium iodide tablets to Ukraine to protect people from potential radiation exposure.
“No nuclear power plant should ever be used as a theater of war. It is unacceptable that civilian lives are put at risk. All military action around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant must stop immediately,” said European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič.
Meanwhile, US officials believe that the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive will include a combination of air and ground operations.
John Kirby, the communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said on Monday that regardless of the size, scale and scope of the latest counteroffensive, the Ukrainians “have already had an impact on Russian military capabilities.” .
“Because the Russians had to pull resources out of the east just because of reports that the Ukrainians might be more offensive in the south,” Kirby said. “And so they had to wear down some units…in some areas east of Donbass (region), to respond to what they clearly believed was an imminent threat of a counter-offensive.”
Kirby also said that Russia “continues to have manpower problems” in Ukraine and is trying to expand its recruitment of fighters inside Russia as well as “incentivize” some of their conscripts. and contract soldiers to serve beyond their deadlines.