Ukraine claims several modest advances, loses several tanks in nascent counteroffensive

Ukrainian troops in Zaporizhia
(Image credit: Anatolii Stepanov / AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy more or less confirmed over the weekend that Ukraine has begun its long-anticipated counteroffensive, though he added he will "not disclose in detail" the stage of Ukraine's effort to pry back heavily fortified land from Russian occupiers.

"Ukrainian forces made visually verified advances in western Donetsk Oblast and western Zaporizhia Oblast, which Russian sources confirmed but sought to downplay," the Institute for the Study of War research group assessed Sunday night. "Ukrainian forces liberated several towns, but claims of a Ukrainian 'breakthrough' are premature at this time."

Ukraine said Sunday and early Monday that it had recaptured several small villages south of Velyka Novosilka in Donetsk — Neskuchne, Blahodatne, Makrivka, and Storozhove — and made gains in Zaporizhzhia and on the outskirts of Bakhmut. Kyiv also acknowledged taking casualties and losing several Western-supplied armored vehicles in hard fighting.

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Russian aircraft, mines and artillery destroyed or crippled at least three German-made Leopard 2 tanks and eight U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles, The New York Times reported, analyzing verified photos from pro-war Russian bloggers. The Russian military bloggers "gloated over footage appearing to show the destruction of numerous vehicles," The Wall Street Journal added. "But videos posted online mostly showed hits on the same tanks from different angles."

"Ukrainian forces are attempting to do something no other European military is currently capable of: conducting sustained combined-arms operations at scale against a peer-adversary in a state-on-state, high-intensity war," defense analyst Franz-Stefan Gady told the Journal. And the U.S., which has that capability, has overwhelming air power. "Ukraine doesn't control the air," said Phillips O'Brien at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "People forget how hard this is, what Ukraine is trying to do."

Ukrainian military officials and Western analysts said Kyiv is so far committing only limited forces, testing Russian outer defenses for weaknesses to exploit. "Some of what we are seeing is intended, perhaps, to confuse the Russians as to where the main attack is going to be," retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges told the Journal. When the main push comes, he added, Ukraine will likely send in formations with several hundred tanks and armored fighting vehicles.

For now, Ukraine's recapturing of multiple settlements "reinforces the fact that they are moving forward," retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling told CNN on Sunday. "Every single piece of land Ukrainian forces can pull back to their sovereign territory is going to be part of a march toward operational success."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.