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Ukraine welcomes first territory regained in counteroffensive

Ukraine says its troops have recaptured three villages from Russian forces in its southeast, the first liberated settlements since it launched a counteroffensive.

An unverified video released by Ukraine’s 68th Jager Brigade on Sunday shows soldiers raising a Ukrainian flag over a bombed-out building, which marks the Blahodatne settlement in the Donetsk region.

“We are seeing the first results, the local results, of counter-offensive measures,” Valery Shershen, a spokesman for Ukraine’s “Tavria” military sector, said on television.

The village of Blahodatne is located a few kilometers south of the Kiev-controlled village of Velika Novosilka on the border of Donetsk and Zaporizhia regions, he said.

Brigade spokesman Myroslav Semenyuk told The Associated Press that an assault team captured six Russian soldiers and entered several buildings where about 60 soldiers were hiding.

“The enemy continues to shell us but it will not stop us,” Semenyuk said. “The next village that we are planning to restore is Urojayan. then, [we’ll proceed] further south.”

Russian military bloggers close to the Kremlin wrote that Blahodatne was abandoned for fear of encircling Moscow’s fighters.

Ukrainian forces advanced 300 to 1,500 meters (985-4,920 feet) in two directions on the southern front and recaptured the next village of Makaryvka, Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Maliar said in a statement.

A Ukrainian regional defense unit also posted unverified footage on Telegram of its soldiers holding up their flags in Neskuchon, the village closest to Ukrainian positions in the area.

“Our forces have not lost any positions on the defensive side,” Maliar added.

Interactive-Eastern controls the key in Ukraine -1686153782

‘drive out the enemy’

Russia’s Defense Ministry insisted on Sunday that it was repelling Ukrainian attacks in the area. It said in a statement that Ukraine’s attempts to launch an offensive on the front lines of southern Donetsk and Zaporizhia axes in the past 24 hours had “failed”.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-based official in the Zaporizhia region, insisted that Blahodatne and two other villages in the region were in a “grey area” in terms of their control.

With so little information from the front lines and little independent reporting, it has become almost impossible to assess the situation on the battlefield.

“We are driving the enemy from our homeland. It’s the warmest feeling out there. Ukraine is going to win, Ukraine above all,” an unidentified soldier said in the Blahodatne video.

The occupied southeast is seen as a potential priority for Kiev’s forces, which aim to link up Russian land bridges that could threaten the Crimean peninsula and split Russian forces in half.

Makarivka is located about 90 km (300 mi) northwest of the city of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea at the southern end of the land bridge. Russia captured the main city last year after weeks of siege and bombardment.

Russia has built massive fortifications across occupied territory to prepare for a Ukrainian counter-offensive, using thousands of troops trained and equipped by the West.

In his statement, Maliar also said Ukrainian forces were continuing to advance eastward near the devastated town of Bakhmut and had advanced 250 meters (820 feet) near the Barkhivka reservoir.

Russia says it captured the city of Bakhmut last month after the bloodiest and longest battle since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, but Kiev says it is returning to the edge of the city.

Chaotic scene

Meanwhile, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said six people were wounded after Russian troops opened fire on a boat evacuating people from Ukrainian-held territory along the flooded front line far to the south.

Chaotic scenes in flooded southern Ukraine marked the latest upheaval and bloodshed in Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its 16th month.

The president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on his Telegram account that the injured were taken to a hospital in the southern city of Kherson. An AP team at the site saw three ambulances drop off injured evacuees at a hospital, including one covered in blood and taken to the emergency room on a stretcher.

Also on Sunday, the Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of attacking – albeit unsuccessfully – one of its ships in the Black Sea.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, six unmanned speedboats attempted to attack the Russian Pryazovye reconnaissance ship which was “monitoring the situation and ensuring security along the routes of the TurkStream and Blue Stream gas pipelines in the southeastern part of the Black Sea”.

All the speedboats were destroyed by the Russian military and there was no damage to the vessel, the ministry said. The claim could not be independently verified and Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment.

Ukraine and Russia reported a number of prisoner of war exchanges on Sunday. Russia said 94 of its soldiers had been freed and Yarmak said 95 Ukrainians had been freed.

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