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Ukrainian troops reclaim a village near Bakhmut. It’s a small win in a churning counteroffensive

The taking of the village of Andriivka underscores how difficult Ukraine’s multipronged counteroffensive is shaping up to be

Guerra Rusia Ucrania Donetsk
That image was taken from a drone on Wednesday Sept. 6, 2023, Houses are seen destroyed during the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian armed forces are seen in Andriivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine.Evgeniy Maloletka (AP)

Ukrainian forces recaptured a war-ravaged settlement in the country’s embattled east, Kyiv’s military leaders said Friday, a small territorial win in a churning counteroffensive marked so far by small victories but no major breakthroughs.

The taking of the village of Andriivka, 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut, underscores just how difficult Ukraine’s multipronged counteroffensive is shaping up to be.

In the east and the south, Ukraine is reporting minimal territorial gains after months of intense fighting and heavy losses. Despite being bolstered by NATO-standard weapons worth billions of dollars, Ukrainian military officials have said there are no quick solutions to puncture Russian defensive lines — only slow, grinding battles.

Ukraine’s strategy appears to be to spread Russian forces thin across multiple directions along the front line, from vast agricultural tracts in the east to the Dnieper River, which marks the line of contact in the south, in hopes that Ukrainian troops can exploit their opponents’ vulnerabilities.

The wet weather of fall and winter will likely slow Ukrainian advances. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to visit Washington next week as Congress debates approving more aid.

In the northeast, Russian forces are staging their own offensive, seeking to pin Ukrainian forces and distract them from fighting elsewhere.

Three months of intense fighting finally wore down Russian forces in Andriivka, a tiny patch along the sprawling front, allowing Ukraine’s 3rd Assault Brigade to make a lightning move to encircle Russian forces.

The recapture of Andriivka comes weeks after an important tactical victory for Ukrainian forces in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, where they punctured through Russia’s first line of defense and took back the village of Robotyne.

The win, announced in late August, came after Ukrainian forces advanced just 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) after intense fighting that started in June.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces announced the reclaiming of Andriivka early Friday. There was no confirmation or comment from Russia authorities.

The 3rd Assault Brigade said it took Andriivka after surrounding the Russian garrison in the village during what it described as a “lightning operation” and destroying it over two days. It called the success a breakthrough on the southern flank of Bakhmut and “key to success in all further directions.”

At best, the recapture of Andriivka, which had a prewar population of under 100, allows Ukrainian forces to maneuver with greater ease around Bakhmut, a city known for salt mining that is now in complete ruins.

The eight months of fighting for control of Bakhmut comprised the longest and likely bloodiest battle of the war, which began in February 2022. Russian forces led by mercenaries from the Wagner Group captured Bakhmut in May.

The 3rd Assault Brigade initially contested a statement by Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar that said Andriivka was reclaimed but confirmed early Friday that it had done so.

“It was difficult and yesterday’s situation changed very dynamically several times,” she said.

Maliar said Ukraine had regained 50 square kilometers (19 square miles) of land around Bakhmut since the start of the counteroffensive in June.

In late June, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin led his fighters from eastern Ukraine into Russia as part of a short-lived rebellion that represented the biggest challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s more than two decades of rule. Two months later, Prigozhin and several of his top lieutenants died in a suspicious plane crash en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Ukrainian forces are trying to envelop Bakhmut from the south and the north and have gained ground slowly in the past three months. Analysts and U.S. officials have questioned the expenditure of forces around the city, but military leaders have said they were successfully exhausting Russian forces by keeping them fixed in position.

Andriivka is located between the settlements of Kurdiumivka and the heights of Klischiivka in the Donetsk region, where fighting has been especially intense.

Ukraine’s General Staff said its forces also inflicted heavy losses in the nearby village of Klishchiivka as part of the counteroffensive.

The gains in the south are considered more strategically significant since they bring Ukraine’s troops closer to the Sea of Azov, where they could try to cut the land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. Isolating Crimea would divide the Russian-occupied territory in the south and undermine Moscow’s supply lines.

In the south, one person died and six were injured in shelling in the Kherson region, Ukraine’s presidential office said. It also reported airstrikes on the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Also Friday, Putin said that some 300,000 Russians have signed volunteer military contracts this year, noting that they were driven by “high patriotic motives.”

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