Heavy casualties on both sides as Ukraine offensive edges forward

Heavy casualties are being endured by both Ukrainian and Russian forces, British military intelligence has said, as Kyiv celebrated the liberation of an eighth settlement in the south of the country, two weeks into its offensive.

The level of losses among Russian troops was said by British officials to be at its highest level since the peak of March’s battle for Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, with Ukraine claiming to have killed or injured 4,600 soldiers.

The progress of Ukraine’s forces in both the east and south of the country has been slow, with much of the heavy western weaponry and new brigades yet to be committed to battle.

The deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar announced that the capture of the village of Piatykhatky, in the southern part of Zaporizhzhia, brought the tally of liberated settlements up to eight, with 113sq km of territory said to have been seized from the occupying forces.

Ukraine’s border guard service released images of several Ukrainian service personnel holding their national flag at Piatykhatky.

“Today, 18 June, the forces of 128 Assault Brigade chased out the Russians from the village of Piatykhatky. The Russians ran away, leaving equipment and ammunition. Glory to Ukraine,” an unidentified soldier said in a video that could not be independently verified.

Maliar said Ukrainian troops were coming up against fierce resistance in the east of the country, particularly around Bakhmut, the symbolically important town captured recently by Russia after months of close combat fighting and heavy casualties.

“The Russians have transferred additional units there and increased the amount of shelling,” she said.

Maliar said the situation in the east of the country was “difficult” after initial positive reports over advances around Bakhmut.

She said: “The enemy has raised its forces and is conducting an active offensive in the Lyman and Kupyan directions, trying to seize the initiative from us. High activity of enemy shelling is recorded. Intense battles continue.

“The enemy does not abandon his plans to reach the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Currently, this is the enemy’s main offensive line. Therefore, it has concentrated a significant number of units in the east, in particular the airborne assault units. Our troops act courageously in the face of the enemy’s superiority in forces and means, and do not allow the enemy to advance.”

In a phone call on Monday, the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, told Volodymyr Zelenskiy that it was clear the Ukrainian counteroffensive was “making good progress”, Downing Street said.

Russia’s defence ministry claimed on Monday that its forces had fought off a Ukrainian attempt to take the village of Novodonetske in the eastern Donetsk region, on the road to Mariupol, close to where Ukrainian forces have enjoyed recent success, according to Reuters.

Russia was reported to have moved troops to the southern Donetsk front, including 20 attack helicopters, from the Kherson region, where the destruction of the Kakhovka dam has reduced the potential of Ukrainian forces to cross the enlarged Dnipro.

In recent days, the 68th brigade, among others, had blazed a trail south from Velyka Novosilka, a small town 75 miles (120km) north of Mariupol, but they appear to have struggled to make further progress.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based military observatory group, said in an analytical note on Monday that Ukraine’s forces had probably taken back some territory from Russian forces over the weekend.

“Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive actions on at least four sectors of the front on 18 June and made limited territorial gains,” it said.

Russia’s FSB security service claimed on Monday to have thwarted Ukrainian “sabotage and terrorist plots” targeting Russian-installed officials in the occupied territory, arresting one woman as part of its investigation.

Criminal cases were said to have been opened against the unnamed woman it described as “an accomplice” on charges related to terrorism and the illegal possession of explosives.

In Russia, seven people, including a child, were said by local governors to have been wounded in drone attacks in the Belgorod region.

The regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, wrote: “The Valuisk municipal district is under attack from Ukrainian forces. According to preliminary information, seven people were wounded, among them a child.”

Strikes on the Kursk border region were also said to have hit two villages, causing damage but no casualties, the local governor, Roman Starovoit, said. “Ukrainian forces hit the Tyotkino and Popovo-Lezhachi villages this morning,” he wrote on Telegram.

In Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, the governor, Sergei Aksyonov, said two drones were shot down overnight.

During a press conference with Nato’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, said his government was prepared for the possibility of a lengthy war in Ukraine.

“We are preparing for that and adjusting our policies based on that,” Scholz said, adding that Germany would continue to support Kyiv for as long as was necessary.