Ukraine said it had retaken hundreds of square kilometres of territory from Russia’s troops, as the United States unveiled new military aid for Kyiv and said western allies must back the embattled country for the “long haul” to defeat the Kremlin’s invasion.
The Ukrainian military and social media accounts that are close to Russian and Ukrainian forces have reported swift gains by Kyiv’s forces near Kharkiv in the northeast of the country. Ukraine’s troops are also moving forward — apparently at slower pace — behind heavy artillery strikes on Russian supply lines in southern areas near the Black Sea.
Ukrainian brigadier general Oleksiy Gromov said on Thursday that “during defence operations to recapture lost territory in the Kharkiv direction, since the start of the week, Ukraine’s armed forces ... have penetrated enemy lines by a depth of up to 50km.”
He also said Ukrainian forces had retaken 20 settlements in the Kharkiv area and that “the total amount of territory returned to Ukrainian control in the Kharkiv and Pivdennyi Buh directions stands at over 700 square kilometres.” The Pivdennyi Buh, or Southern Bug, river flows through southern Ukraine and the government-held city of Mykolaiv.
Earlier on Thursday, the US-based Institute for the Study of War said “Ukrainian forces in southeastern Kharkiv ... are likely exploiting Russian force reallocation to the southern axis to conduct an opportunistic yet highly effective counteroffensive”.
The think tank said “Ukrainian forces likely used tactical surprise to advance at least 20km into Russian-held territory in eastern Kharkiv ... on September 7th, recapturing approximately 400 square kilometres of ground.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed “good news from the Kharkiv region ... And I think every citizen feels proud of our warriors. It is a well-deserved pride, a proper feeling.”
Officials in Moscow insist Ukraine will be defeated and they have not spoken about this week’s losses, but social media accounts that are close to Russian troops and mercenaries on the frontline have acknowledged that Ukraine is retaking territory near Kharkiv.
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin announced a new $675 million (€678m) package of military aid for Ukraine as he hosted a meeting in Germany of defence chiefs from dozens of countries to discuss support for Kyiv.
“Ukrainian forces have begun their counteroffensive in the south of their country. And they are integrating the capabilities that we all have provided to help themselves to fight and reclaim their sovereign territory,” Mr Austin said.
“This contact group needs to position itself to sustain Ukraine’s brave defenders for the long haul. And that means a continued and determined flow of capability now. It means moving urgently to innovate — and to push all of our defence industrial bases to provide Ukraine with the tools that it will need for the hard road ahead,” he added.
“Now, we’re seeing the demonstrable success of our common efforts on the battlefield ... And we must evolve as the fight evolves.”
US secretary of state Antony Blinken paid an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Thursday, and unveiled $2 billion (€2bn) in new military aid to Ukraine and 18 other countries that Washington believes to be at risk of Russian aggression.
At a meeting of the United Nations security council, the US accused Moscow’s troops of forcibly transferring up to 1.6 million Ukrainians to Russia since the start of its all-out invasion in February, including more than 1,800 children.
Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia insisted that his country was giving sanctuary to many Ukrainians, and called the allegations against Moscow “a new milestone in the disinformation campaign unleashed by Ukraine and its western backers.”