Ukrainian forces have reportedly launched attacks against Russian troops in the strategic southern Zaporizhzhia region, according to Russian officials and military bloggers. The Ukrainian military, supported by tanks, artillery, and drones, is said to be pushing south of the town of Orikhiv for a second consecutive night. A high-ranking Ukrainian defence official claimed that their enemy was in an “active defence” state.
Several military experts have suggested that the focal point of Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive will be Zaporizhzhia. They believe that Kyiv is attempting to regain access to the Sea of Azov by dividing the Russian forces in the area into two separate groups. This strategy would not only weaken Russia’s combat capability but also eliminate a land connection to Crimea, the southern peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Ukraine has been preparing a counter-offensive for months but has sought to maximise the time available for training troops and receiving advanced military equipment from Western allies. The government has been tight-lipped about its plans, but Ukrainian forces are now testing Russian positions along the front line, searching for vulnerabilities.
Simultaneously, Russian attacks on Ukraine persist. Overnight, new cruise missile and drone strikes were launched, with falling debris killing at least one person in Zhytomyr, west of the capital Kyiv. Russia captured the majority of the Zaporizhzhia region shortly after President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion in February 2022. However, the regional capital, the city of Zaporizhzhia, remains under Ukrainian control.
Intense fighting in the area continued overnight, with several pro-Kremlin military bloggers noting late on Thursday that Ukraine had recommenced its attacks, observing the movement of armoured personnel carriers and drones directing artillery fire. Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed local official, stated that Russian troops were maintaining their positions amid “active fighting” towards the city of Tokmak, which is considered a crucial target for Ukraine in its quest to advance to the Sea of Azov.
It is challenging to verify the claims made by both sides. On Thursday, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said that Russian forces were “in active defence” in Zaporizhzhia and claimed progress was being made around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which has been largely devastated during months of conflict.
The Zaporizhzhia region also hosts Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is situated in an area controlled by Russian forces. Despite the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro river on Tuesday, which led to falling water levels in the reservoir and widespread flooding downstream, the plant continues to receive cooling water from the dam’s reservoir.
However, the ensuing crisis is jeopardising the region’s water supplies, with the World Health Organisation warning of a potential cholera outbreak. The situation is also expected to have severe long-term consequences for agriculture in one of Ukraine’s most fertile regions.
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