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Ukraine claims to have captured another village as highly anticipated counteroffensive underway

Ukraine’s counteroffensive claimed another victory Monday as troops retook a fourth village from Russian forces in the country’s southeast. 

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar claimed on Telegram that Ukrainian forces had retaken the village of Storozhov, in the eastern Donetsk region

UKRAINE ORIKHIV

FILE:  Local resident receives humanitarian aid (food) at a destroyed building a day after the Russian shelling of Evangelical Christian Baptists prayer house in Orikhiv.  (Andriy Andriyenko/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A day earlier, Ukrainian officials said their troops took three other small villages nearby — Blahodatne, Makarivka and Neskuchne — south of the town of Velyka Novosilka. These gains are still small and difficult to verify. 

Recent fighting on the western edge of the 600-mile front line has been complicated by a dam breach that sent floodwaters through a part of the Dnieper River separating the two sides.

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Western analysts and military officials have cautioned that an effort to rid Ukraine of entrenched and powerfully armed Russian troops could take years, and the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive is far from certain.

The villages are part of an area where the Russian front lines jut out into territory held by Ukraine. While more than 1 mile deep, the protrusion has recently become one of several epicenters of intense fighting along the front line that cuts across southern and eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian firefighters

In this photo provided by the National Police of Ukraine, firefighters work to extinguish a fire after a Russian attack at an apartments’ buildings area in the town of Uman, 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, April 28, 2023.  (National Police of Ukraine via AP)

Despite their small size, the capture of the villages involved an incursion into the first line of Russian defenses and could allow Ukrainian forces to try a deeper thrust into occupied areas.

Russian forces control far less Ukrainian land than they did before a Ukrainian counteroffensive last year that retook the northern city of Kharkiv and southern city of Kherson, among other places.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday that “counteroffensive, defensive actions are taking place” without specifying whether it was an all-out counteroffensive, which has been expected after a vast infusion of Western firepower and air defense systems into Ukraine.

A day earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that the counteroffensive had started and Ukrainian forces were taking “significant losses.”

flooded streets in Kherson

Streets are flooded in Kherson, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, after the walls of the Kakhovka dam collapsed. (AP Photo/Libkos)

Russian authorities have said their troops are largely holding their ground. They have not confirmed a retreat from the three villages.

The reported Ukrainian advance comes as authorities on both sides of the front line pressed on with rescue and relocation efforts for civilians in the Kherson region driven from their homes by flooding from the breach of the Kakhovka dam last week.

With many homes and shops submerged in polluted river water, the U.N. and other aid groups say access to fresh drinking water is crucial and that water-borne diseases pose a big risk. Thousands of people have been evacuated, though some remain.

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Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces, which controlled the area around the dam, of deliberately destroying it. Russian officials have blamed Ukrainian shelling for its destruction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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