Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy advised Russian soldiers to run for their lives after his forces initiated an offensive to take back southern Ukraine, but Moscow stated that it had countered the attack and inflicted heavy losses on Kyiv’s troops.
Ukraine stated on Monday that its ground forces had gone on the offensive for the first time after a long period of aerial raids on Russian supply lines, especially ammunition dumps and bridges across the strategically important River Dnieper.
“If they want to survive, it’s time for the Russian military to run away. Go home,” Zelenskyy said in a late-night speech.
“Ukraine is taking back its own [land],” he said, noting that he would not reveal Kyiv’s battle plans.
In reaction, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Russia was methodically moving on with its plans in Ukraine, stating that: “All of our goals will be reached.”
The Ukrainian counterattack comes after several weeks of relative deadlock in a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions, destroyed cities and caused a global energy and food crisis amid unprecedented Western economic sanctions on Russia.
Russia captured large areas of southern Ukraine close to the Black Sea coast in the early weeks of the six-month-old war, including in the Kherson region, which lies north of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine, now equipped with sophisticated Western-supplied weapons, sees recapturing the region as necessary to prevent Russian attempts to capture more territory further west that could eventually cut off its access to the Black Sea.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a senior Ukrainian presidential adviser, stated that Russian defences in the Kherson theatre had been “broken through in a few hours”. It was uncertain which line of Russian defence, of which there are many, he was referring to.
Arestovych also disclosed that Ukrainian forces were shelling ferries Russia was using to supply its forces on the west bank of the Dnieper.
Natalia Humeniuk, a Ukrainian military spokeswoman, on Tuesday said Kyiv could bring down any pontoon bridge across the river that Russia tried to build or ferry crossing it.
“The whole area where such a crossing can be built is under our fire control and [any new structure] will be hit.”
The United Kingdom, an associate of Ukraine, said on Tuesday that Kyiv had heightened its artillery barrage across the entire southern front, but that it was not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian territorial advances.
Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykolaiv region close to front lines north of Kherson, informed Ukrainian TV: “Heavy fighting is going on. Our military is working around the clock. Liberation of the Kherson region is coming soon.”
Uncertain reports, images and footage on social media suggested Ukrainian forces may have retracted some villages and destroyed some Russian targets in the south.
Russia’s RIA news agency alleged that the Russian-controlled town of Nova Kakhovka had been left without water or power after a Ukrainian missile attack.
However, Russia’s defence ministry stated that the Ukrainian offensive had been frustrated.
It disclosed that Ukrainian forces, after trying to go on the offensive in three different areas in the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, had lost over 1,200 military personnel as well as 139 tanks, armoured vehicles and trucks.
Russia’s defensive actions have resulted in a rout of Ukrainian forces, it added, saying air defence units had fired dozens of missiles near Kherson.
Ukraine’s Suspilne public broadcaster reported explosions in the Kherson area, while city residents reported hearing gunfire and blasts.
A Russian-installed official in Kherson, Kirill Stremousov, was quoted by the Russian state-owned TASS news agency as disclosing that a group of armed people had tried to put up resistance to police in one region of Kherson after hearing about Ukraine’s offensive.
One of the people was killed in a shoot-out, TASS added.
A mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected this week to visit the nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, to inspect and evaluate any damage. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi met Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Tuesday, the president’s office said, without further explanation.
Inspection of the plant should take one day, the head of the Russian-installed local administration informed the Interfax news agency on Tuesday. Yevgeny Balitsky, who on Monday stated that he did not expect much from the IAEA visit, informed the agency the inspectors “must see the work of the station in one day”.
Ukraine on Tuesday blamed Russia of intentionally shelling a corridor that IAEA officials would need to reach the plant in an effort to get them to travel via Russian-annexed Crimea instead. There was no immediate response from Moscow.