Ukraine Appears to Intensify Attack After Slow Start to Counteroffensive: Live Updates

Ukrainian soldiers preparing to fire mobile artillery toward Russian positions in the Zaporizhzhia region, this month.Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Russia launched blistering artillery and aerial bombardments across southern Ukraine early Thursday, the Ukrainian military said, an apparent effort to repel an intensifying Ukrainian assault aimed at ripping through Moscow’s heavily fortified defensive lines.

Russian forces are focusing their “main efforts on preventing the further advance of Ukrainian troops,” the Ukrainian military’s general staff reported. It said that Ukrainian forces “continue to conduct an offensive operation in Melitopol and Berdyansk directions,” two cities along the Sea of Azov, which Ukraine hopes to reach in order to drive a wedge through Russian-occupied territory in southern and eastern Ukraine.

After nearly two months of grueling efforts to grind across open fields seeded with mines, battling tree line to tree line in one ruined hamlet after another, American officials say that Ukraine has begun the main thrust of its counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region and deployed thousands of soldiers newly outfitted with Western arms into the battle.

The Ukrainian General Staff, which is responsible for Kyiv’s overall military strategy and has sought to maintain operational secrecy, gave no confirmation that its counteroffensive had entered a new phase. Privately, Ukrainian officials said reserve units were not yet in use and the units already engaged were still working on creating breaches in Russia’s defenses.

Two American officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the campaign, said they believe that the center of Ukraine’s “main thrust” was taking place in the direction of Robotyne, which is about six miles from the Ukrainian-controlled town of Orikhiv and about 50 miles north of Melitopol.

One Ukrainian military official dismissed the U.S. claims of a major thrust south of Orikhiv, saying that Ukrainian forces were in defensive positions around Robotyne.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, speaking to reporters while visiting Papua New Guinea on Thursday, did not comment on the claims that the counteroffensive was in a new phase. He said Kyiv has done a good job “preserving manpower and equipment” despite months of bloody fighting, and still has “a number of options available to them.”

Ukrainian soldiers conducting demining training exercises in the Zaporizhzhia region in June.Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Reaching Russian-occupied Melitopol is a key objective of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Doing so would sever the so-called land bridge connecting Russian forces in eastern Ukraine from those in the south.

In what appeared to be a separate thrust, the Ukrainians reported progress in the direction of Berdyansk — a port city about 70 miles east of Melitopol.

Ukrainian Special Forces released video, verified by The New York Times, that appears to show Ukrainian soldiers taking Russian soldiers prisoner in the village of Staromaiorske. The village, about 90 miles north of Berdyansk, is near a cluster of farming hamlets along a winding river that Ukrainian forces claimed in the early days of their counteroffensive.

Earlier footage verified by The Times and posted to social media in recent days shows Ukraine’s southern advance into Russian-held territory, including Staromaiorske. One video, posted by a Ukrainian air reconnaissance team, shows soldiers, apparently Russian, fleeing near an intersection in the northwest part of the town. It is not clear from the footage how much control Ukraine has established in the town.

Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, and Haley Willis from Seoul.