06202023

Russia Targets Central Ukraine in Deadly Aerial Attack

As Ukraine hunts for a place to drive a wedge through Russian-occupied land in the southeast, it has yet to commit the bulk of the forces that Western allies have trained and equipped for the counteroffensive.

Russia has built multiple lines of fortifications on the plains where Ukraine is attacking and has heavily seeded the ground with mines to slow Ukraine’s tanks and armored vehicles. At least eight American-made Bradley fighting vehicles were abandoned by Ukrainian troops or destroyed in the early days of the counteroffensive, based on videos and photographs posted by pro-war Russian bloggers and verified by The New York Times.

On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry published a video purporting to show its forces capturing an undisclosed number of Bradleys and German-made Leopard tanks left behind by Ukrainian forces fighting in Zaporizhzhia, adding: “Now these are our trophies.” The Russian claim could not be independently verified immediately.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s general staff, Andriy Kovalev, told a television news broadcast on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had advanced about 500 to 1,000 yards in some locations in the south that he did not specify.

A Russian-appointed official in southern Ukraine posted on the Telegram app on Tuesday claiming that Russian attack helicopters had targeted Ukrainian soldiers in one location overnight near the town of Velyka Novosilka, in the Donetsk region, where Ukraine had begun attacking last week.

“Our night counterattacks began,” wrote the official, Vladimir Rogov, adding that the Russian military was flying sorties with two models of attack helicopters. Both armies were firing artillery in the area, he said.

Pro-war Russian bloggers, who are affiliated with the military or paramilitary groups and often provide accounts of fighting more quickly than official Russian announcements, also said on Monday that Russia had launched counterattacks in the same area. One blogger, who posts under the moniker Special Forces Archangel, wrote that in the fighting near Velyka Novosilka, neither side had a clear advantage.

“In reports from the field we have one piece of information, and then another,” the blogger wrote.

The Russian counterstrikes, if confirmed, would suggest a defensive strategy of attacking Ukrainian soldiers as they move forward and out of range of their own army’s air defenses and electronic jamming systems. Analysts had said that Russia could use such an approach in an effort to slow Ukrainian advances.

Ukraine has pushed forward in at least two locations in southern Ukraine but there are no indications that it has breached the zones of dense Russian defenses, which include minefields, trenches for infantry and concrete barriers to stop tanks.

“We have to be ready for our military to fight long and hard” to breach the defensive lines, Ivan Kyrychevsky, a military analyst at Defense Express, a Ukrainian analytical group, wrote in a post on Facebook. Ukraine should also be prepared, he said, for Russia to “show as a strategic victory every tiny failure of our forces.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, speaking in an evening address on Monday, said that the fighting was “fierce” but that Ukrainian troops were still advancing despite the rainstorms.

“The rain makes our task more difficult,” he said. “The strength of our warriors still yields results.”

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.

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