Ukraine on Thursday launched its highly anticipated counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces, sources familiar confirmed to Fox News.
Ukrainian fighters are making a large push to expel Russian invaders in the city of Zaporizhzhia, in the country’s southeast. Additionally, there are ongoing battles north of the eastern city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces have retaken approximately 1.4 km of territory.
“In the direction of Bakhmut, our troops switched from defense to offensive,” Ukranian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a post on Telegram. “Over the past day, we have advanced from 200 to 1,100 meters in various sections of the Bakhmut direction.”
Multiple news outlets reported Thursday that Ukraine had begun its operation to reclaim territory seized by Russia in the past year of a war instigated by President Vladimir Putin. The Ukrainians are fighting with Western arms and equipment, including $46.8 billion in training, weapons and military grants and loans from the U.S.
An intelligence update on Ukraine from the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said “heavy fighting continues along multiple sectors of the front.”
“In most areas, Ukraine holds the initiative,” the ministry said.
A soldier near the front lines serving with a Ukrainian reconnaissance unit tells Fox News that the Russians are returning fire with artillery.
“The Russians are using drones to identify Ukrainian positions and then implementing the artillery technique of ‘bracketing’ to try and hit advancing soldiers,” the soldier said.
Bracketing is an artillery term for first firing long on a target, then short of it, and next adjusting to split the difference and hit the target with the third round, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
High casualties are expected on both sides as the offensive continues.
“This will be the bloodiest phase of the war yet. The Ukrainians must show the Americans and the Europeans that they are capable of winning this war and if it is worth continuing sending them costly high-tech military hardware. So they will fight very hard as they realize Western support is not endless,” said Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting and a former DIA intelligence officer.
“The Russians will also put up a brutal fight, especially for Crimea, which both the Russian government, and most ordinary Russians, view it as Russian territory that fell under Ukraine’s control by mistake in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian forces are aiming to break Russian defenses in the south and drive the adversary out, paving the way for them to attack the land bridge, between Russia and Crimea,” Koffler said.
“This will be a dog fight, and it remains to be seen who will prevail: a NATO-trained and equipped Ukrainian military who are using modern Western weaponry, or the Russians, who lack NATO-style tactical brilliance but use asymmetric tactics that are not in line with the Western laws of armed conflict.”
Koffler noted the Russians have used industrial sabotage — pointing to the collapse of the Kakhovka dam, which has created hazardous conditions and changed the topography of the front lines — and targeted civilians to put psychological pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to surrender.
“It’s the Western efficient, precision-strike type warfare against the Russian casualties-intensive ‘out suffer your enemy’ type,” Koffler said.
“In the end, this war is unwinnable simply because the stakes are existential for Putin, and Russia has so many more troops to throw into the meat grinder. This is proving to be a protracted grinding war of attrition in which both sides will bare heaviest casualties, yet both sides — and the West — have decided that this sort of sacrifice is worth it for them.”
Zelenskyy previewed the offensive several days ago in comments to The Wall Street Journal.
“We strongly believe that we will succeed,” Zelenskyy said. “I don’t know how long it will take.”
“To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different,” he said. “But we are going to do it, and we are ready.”
Russian military officials have discussed the potential for a major Ukrainian offensive this spring. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin previously claimed the offensive had started in Bakhmut in early May, but any such action at that time failed to secure the city, which Russia secured at the end of the month.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu around the same time demanded that state-owned companies double their missile output in preparation for Ukraine’s counteroffensive, saying, “Right now it is necessary to double the production of high-precision weapons in the shortest possible time.”
Dry weather in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine have created conditions that Zelenskyy and his military command have long waited for to commence the operation. Ukraine increased its strikes on Russian supply depots and logistical routes in recent weeks in anticipation of more significant action.
On Monday, Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russia-backed administration of Ukraine’s partly-occupied Zaporizhzhia province, said fighting resumed on its border with the eastern Donetsk province after Russian defenses beat back a Ukrainian advance the previous day.
Kyiv denied that the offensive had begun, but Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Reuters the country now has enough weapons to strike back at Russia.
Fox News’ Greg Norman and Peter Aitken contributed to this report.