Intense fighting raged across a wide swath of southeastern Ukraine for a second day on Friday, as Ukrainian forces attacked Russian occupation troops in several locations, while military analysts and US officials said warned that it was far too early to assess the success of Kiev’s offensive.
Both sides were grappling with severe flooding caused by the destruction of a major dam on the Dnipro River, but to the east of there fierce fighting indicated that Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive against the he Russian invasion was underway, according to Western and Russian analysts and officials. .
Two senior US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations, confirmed that Ukrainian troops had, as expected, suffered casualties and loss of equipment at the start of the fighting, but said said classified assessments quantifying the losses were still being developed.
No information was available on Russian casualties, but attackers generally suffer heavier initial casualties than dug-in defenders, and analysts warned that breaking through Russian lines would be difficult and expensive.
The Russians have built up formidable layers of defenses – with trenches, bunkers, minefields, concrete tank obstacles and gun emplacement – and the flat terrain leaves advancing troops vulnerable to artillery and Moscow air power.
Videos and photos posted by Russian pro-war bloggers and verified by The New York Times show that at least three German-made Leopard 2 tanks and eight American-made Bradley fighting vehicles were recently abandoned by Ukrainian troops or destroyed.
The Pentagon on Friday announced a new round of military aid to Ukraine, this time worth $2.1 billion, including air defense missiles and artillery shells.
Both warring nations gave positive but vague reviews that offered few details about the battle. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address Thursday evening that his forces were achieving “step by step” results, but did not specify what those results were, and the Ukrainian military said Friday that “the enemy remains on the defensive”. ”
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin said in a public appearance in Sochi, Russia on Friday that Ukraine’s counteroffensive had begun, as evidenced by its use of “strategic reserves”. The Ukrainian army has not made progress, he said, but still has “offensive potential”.
Pentagon officials and military analysts are increasingly optimistic about Ukraine’s prospects of retaking much of the 18% of the country that Russia still occupies.
“It’s not something you judge based on a few days of fighting,” Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at NAC, a research institute in Arlington, Va., said in a Twitter post on Friday. “The offensive will unfold over weeks and probably months.”
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based analysis group, wrote Thursday evening that Ukraine had yet to commit all of the newly trained and equipped units it had prepared for the offensive, and was fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region against Russian units. which were considerably stronger than those elsewhere along the front.
The Ukrainians attacked in several places in Zaporizhzhia and the adjacent Donetsk region, looking for weaknesses to exploit, and should move troops and equipment to concentrate on those vulnerabilities.
Some of the heaviest fighting was reported, by officials on both sides, near the town of Orikhiv in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia. Analysts have long anticipated a major Ukrainian push there, pushing south towards the city of Melitopol and the Sea of Azov, in an attempt to cut in two the lands Russia has seized.
Zaporizhzhia is where Moscow has “engineered one of Europe’s greatest defensive systems since World War II”, analysts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based research group, said in a statement. report released Friday. The report, based on satellite data, says the defenses are more than six miles deep, more than double those erected in other regions.
As of Thursday, pro-war Russian bloggers and the Russian military reported that Ukraine had unsuccessfully attempted to advance a few kilometers east of Orikhiv, near the village of Mala Tokmashka.
Footage posted by a Ukrainian brigade and verified by The Times shows Ukrainian troops on foot in Lobkove, a settlement west of Orikhiv.
Ukraine was also attacking in the northeast, in the Donetsk region, around the town of Velyka Novosilka and the town of Bakhmut, which fell to Russian forces last month after the longest and bloodiest battle in the war. Ukrainian forces report gaining ground on the flanks of the city.
This Ukrainian counter-offensive is expected to be one of the largest military operations in Europe since World War II, involving tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles and howitzers, fighting in and around the fields agriculture, towns and villages.
Each side has at times run out of ammunition, with Ukraine relying on its Western backers and Russia buying attack drones from Iran. The Biden administration on Friday released newly declassified intelligence on a drone factory Russia is building with help from Iran, saying it could be operational by next year.
Further west, in the Kherson region, the two banks are separated by the now much wider Dnipro River and encircled by devastation following Tuesday’s destruction of the Kakhovka dam. This would make a Ukrainian advance across the river much more difficult, but Ukrainian officials say such an assault was not in their plans and that breaking the dam will have no effect on the course of the fighting.
A senior Biden administration official said US spy satellites detected an explosion at the Kakhovka Dam just before it collapsed, but US analysts are still unsure what – or who – caused it.
Separately, a Norwegian seismic monitoring foundation reported that its equipment in Romania detected two explosions coming from the direction of the dam. There was a weaker one at 2:35 a.m. Tuesday, then a stronger one, with movement equivalent to a magnitude 1-2 earthquake, at 2:54 a.m., around the time the dam broke, the group said. .
Experts say the dam, which was manned by Russian forces, was likely destroyed by an intentional explosion within the massive structure. They say a blast from the outside, like a missile strike, or structural failure caused by previous war damage and floods pouring over it, were conceivable but much less likely causes.
The Ukrainian government says the only plausible scenario is that the Russians, who controlled the dam, blew it up. Its security service released an audio clip on Friday of what it said was an intercepted phone call, in which a man it identified as a Russian soldier said “it’s our sabotage group” that killed him. destroyed, and added that the damage was “more than they anticipated. The validity of the record could not be determined.
Russian officials blamed Ukraine, offering various scenarios but no proof. Some Russian state television commentators celebrated the destruction of the dam.
The floods forced thousands of people from their homes on both banks of the Dnipro, washed away entire buildings and clogged the river with debris and toxins. On the Russian side, officials said eight people were killed. On the Ukrainian side, five were reported dead and 13 missing.
Ukrainian officials said Friday that Russian forces shelled areas where evacuations and rescues were underway, killing two people.
Floodwaters were receding in the city of Kherson but not downstream, near where the river empties into the Black Sea. Debris from the flood littered the distant shores; residents of Odessa, more than 70 miles from the mouth of the Dnipro, reported seeing roofs of houses and dead animals floating nearby.
Aid groups and Ukrainian officials have warned that the flooding washed away many landmines, knocking them out to sea, and that other debris could collide with floating naval mines and detonate them. Landmines, some of which have been detonated, pose a life-threatening risk to people on or near the waters.
Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian army’s southern command, said even seemingly harmless material washed up on the shores as far as Odessa could contain explosive devices.
Marc Santora, Paul Sonne, Christian Triebert, Haley Willis, Helen Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, Christoph Koettl And Gabriela Sa Pessoa contributed report.