Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country was carrying out counter-offensive operations against invading Russian forces, but declined to give further details.
The Ukrainian leader made the comments at a press conference in Kyiv on Saturday after visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He was responding to a question about Russian President Vladimir Putin saying a day earlier that Ukraine’s counteroffensive had begun and that Ukrainian forces were suffering “significant losses”.
Zelensky said, “Counter-offensive and defensive operations are underway in Ukraine. I will not talk about what stage or stage they are at.
“I am in touch with the commanders of our different directions every day,” he added, citing the names of five of Ukraine’s top military leaders.
“Everyone is positive. Send this to Putin.
High-ranking Ukrainian officials have stopped short of declaring a full-scale counteroffensive, although some Western analysts say heavy fighting and the use of reserve troops.
In his late-night video address, Zelensky offered few details while urging troops to keep fighting.
“Thank you to all those who are holding their posts and all those who have advanced,” he said, citing the eastern and southern fronts where the fighting is heavy.
Ukraine’s civil servants said its forces repelled enemy attacks around Bakhmut and Maringa, the sites of heavy clashes in the east. Russian forces, it said, “continue to suffer heavy losses which they try to hide”.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar made it clear in a telegram that the military will not make any statement until the battlefield situation is clear.
“Ask yourself this…Am I ready to receive information about the liberation of this or that city, not when our troops enter, but when they have established a stronghold?” She wrote.
Ukraine has said for months that it plans a significant counteroffensive to retake Russian-held territory in the south and east. But it is now enforcing a strict operational silence and has denied that it has launched a major operation.
Due to the paucity of independent reports from the frontline, it is difficult to assess the state of the fighting.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense said Ukraine had carried out “significant” operations in several eastern and southern areas in the past 48 hours, and that Russian defenses had been breached in several places.
“In some areas, Ukrainian forces may have made good progress and penetrated the first line of Russian defenses. In others, Ukrainian progress has been slow,” it said, adding that the Russian military’s performance was mixed.
“Some [Russian] “Units are conducting credible maneuver defense operations, while others have retreated in some disruptions, amid increased reports of Russian casualties as the Russians retreat through their own minefields,” it said.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive is expected to use thousands of troops trained and equipped by the West, but Russia has built up massive fortifications in occupied territory, while Kiev lacks dominance.
Patrick Bury, a security and defense expert at the University of Bath in the UK, told Al Jazeera that the counteroffensive could be a “long game” and that its initial operations would be “the bloodiest part for the Ukrainians”.
“It’s unlikely that we’re going to see rapid progress like we saw in Kharkiv in September, where, for example, the Ukrainians, with the help of friendly intelligence, were able to identify where there were tired and decrepit Russian units and were moving past them. That’s not going to happen,” he said.
“The Russians had months to prepare substantial offensives, which were … defensive positions with trenches, bunkers, minefields, designed, in particular, to send attackers into killing zones.”
The Ukrainians may take “heavy casualties” during the attack.
“Defending is very easy: you know the floor, you know what the plan is, ‘I’m going to hold this position until they get here, and then I’m going to come back here, and then that other position is going to support me,'” Bury said.
“It’s very easy for the defenders, as the Ukrainians found out last year when they were defending. It’s very difficult for the attackers,” he added. “Yes, you have some intelligence preparation, but you don’t know where everything is; it’s new to you, the terrain and you You get shot at trying to advance; so it’s very difficult for them.
The south is seen as a key strategic priority for a Ukrainian push aimed at recapturing Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and cutting a Russian land bridge to the occupied Black Sea peninsula, separating Russian forces.
Fighting there has drawn renewed attention after Tuesday’s destruction of the Russian-controlled Kagovka Dam across the Dnipro River.
Flooding from the breached dam forced thousands to flee their homes and sparked fears of humanitarian and environmental disasters. Ukraine claims Russia destroyed the dam. Moscow accuses Kiev of firing.
Trudeau was the first foreign leader to visit Ukraine after the dam broke, offering monetary, military and moral support.
Canada has pledged 500 million Canadian dollars ($375m) in new military aid on top of the 8 billion Canadian dollars ($6bn) it has already provided since the start of the war in February 2022, and announced another 10 million Canadian dollars ($7.5m). ) for humanitarian assistance in flood relief.
Trudeau said the dam’s collapse was a “direct result of Russia’s war,” but he did not directly blame Moscow.
In other developments, the UK government said it would provide 16 million pounds ($20m) in humanitarian aid to flood victims.
Much of the money goes through international organizations like the Red Cross and the United Nations. The UK is sending boats, community water filters, water hoses and waders to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Saturday that he wants to continue talking to Putin and plans to do so again “soon.”
Scholz has spoken with Putin several times by phone since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
The president said the basis for a “just peace” between Russia and Ukraine was the withdrawal of Russian troops.
“It has to be understood,” he said.