Ukraine retakes the village as the counteroffensive begins


KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine’s military on Sunday reported the recapture of a southeastern village after Russian forces claimed they were repelling multiple attacks in the area, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s top adviser said six people were wounded after Moscow’s forces opened fire on a boat evacuating people from Russian-held territory to Ukrainian territory along a flooded front line far to the south.

The battlefield showdown in the southeast and chaotic scenes from flooded southern Ukraine marked the latest turmoil and bloodshed in Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its 16th month.

Andriy Yermak, the president’s chief of staff, wrote on his Telegram account that the injured were rushed to a hospital in the southern city of Kherson, on the west bank of the swelling Dnieper River. An Associated Press team at the scene saw three ambulances taking injured evacuees to a hospital, one of whom was spattered with blood and was carried to the emergency room on a gurney.

Many civilians said that Russian authorities in the occupied territories would force would-be evacuees to present Russian passports before taking them to safety. Since then, scores of small boats from Ukrainian-controlled areas on the west bank have scrambled across the river – which has been flooded upstream since a dam broke on Tuesday – to rescue desperate civilians stuck on rooftops, attics and other parched islands from the deluge.

In the north-east, almost halfway down the more than 1,000-kilometer front line, Ukrainian forces say they have driven out Russian fighters from the village of Blahodatne in the partially occupied Donetsk region. The 68th Separate Fighter Brigade of Ukraine posted a video on Facebook showing soldiers attaching a Ukrainian flag to a damaged building in the village.

Brigade spokesman Myroslav Semeniuk told the Associated Press that an assault team captured six Russian soldiers after entering several buildings where about 60 soldiers were holed up. “The enemy keeps firing at us, but that won’t stop us,” Semeniuk said. “The next village we want to retake is Urozhayne. After that (let’s go on) further south.”

Zelenskyi said on Saturday that Ukrainian counter-offensives were underway. But while the recapture of Blahodatne indicated a small Ukrainian advance, Western and Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly warned that efforts to drive out Russian troops more generally are likely to take time. Russia has placed great emphasis on how its troops have held up elsewhere.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday continued to insist that it was repelling Ukrainian attacks in the region. A statement said Ukrainian attack attempts on the southern Donetsk and Zaporizhia front axes had been “unsuccessful” in the past 24 hours.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-appointed official in the Zaporizhia region, insisted that Blahodatne and two other villages in the region are in a “grey area” in terms of control over who controls them. However, Rogov said in a Telegram post that Russian fighters were forced to leave the village of Neskuchne in the Donetsk region. In one video, militants who identified themselves as members of a Ukrainian volunteer force claimed to have taken the village.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Ukraine’s counter-offensive has begun and that Ukrainian forces have suffered “significant casualties”.

Ukrhydroenergo, Ukraine’s hydroelectric power producer, said on Sunday that the water level in a reservoir above the collapsed Kakhovka Dam had dropped further – to 9.35 meters (30 feet, 6 inches) on Sunday morning, a drop of more than seven meters since the dam rupture corresponds to Tuesday.

Meanwhile, below the dam, Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of the Kherson region, said the water level on the Ukrainian-controlled western bank is falling, even as more than 32 settlements remain flooded. He said conditions were worse on the Russian-occupied east bank because it was lower and the water level was slower to recede.

Also on Sunday, the Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of attacking one of their ships in the Black Sea – albeit unsuccessfully.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the attempted attack occurred when six UAVs targeted the Russian reconnaissance vessel Priazovye, which was “monitoring the situation and providing security along the routes of the TurkStream and Blue Stream gas pipelines in the south-eastern part of the Black Sea.”

All speedboats were destroyed by the Russian military, the ship was not damaged, the ministry said. The claim could not be independently verified and Ukrainian officials did not initially comment.

Ukraine and Russia reported exchanging large numbers of prisoners of war on Sunday; Russia said 94 of its soldiers were released and Yermak said 95 Ukrainians were released.

According to his deputy Nikolai Pankov, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has signed a decree directing all Russian volunteer formations to sign contracts with the ministry by July 1. The move would give the formations legal status and allow them to receive the same government benefits as contract soldiers.

Observers believe the move is likely targeting private military company Wagner. Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has a longstanding feud with the Russian military, said Sunday that the group would not sign such contracts “precisely because Shoigu cannot normally manage military formations.”

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