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Ukraine claims that its forces have driven further into the Mokri Yaly River Valley in the south of the country, announcing on Wednesday that they had retaken the tiny village of Urozhaine after Russian forces said they had retreated following more than a week of fighting.
Retaking the village, which is in the Donetsk region, means that Ukraine now holds positions on both banks of the Mokri Yaly River, opening up more options as its forces try to advance on Russian strongholds farther south. But the fact that progress in Kyiv’s long-anticipated counteroffensive is now measured by the recapture of small villages reinforces how difficult the fighting has become.
“Urozhaine has been liberated,” Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense, said in a statement on Wednesday morning, one day after Russian forces and officials said they had been forced to retreat from the village.
“We lost Urozhaine,” the Russian Vostok battalion, which took part in the battle, said in a statement on Tuesday. The claims were not independently verified.
Each side claims to have inflicted deep losses on the other during heavy fighting, but neither offered an accounting of its own losses. The village, which had a population of under 1,000 before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, has been left in ruins by fighting. Urozhaine is the first village known to be recaptured by Kyiv’s forces since they reclaimed Staromaiorske in late July.
Ukraine’s ultimate goal is to reach the Sea of Azov and drive a wedge into the so-called land bridge between Russia and Crimea, a link that is vital to the Russian military’s supply routes to the west. If Ukrainian forces can drive deep enough into Russian-controlled territory to put Moscow’s supply lines at risk of direct artillery fire, they hope to make Russia’s defensive positions untenable.
Ukrainian forces now have several options for where to try concentrating their forces. They could attempt to push around the Russian-held village of Staromlynivka, about four miles south of Urozhaine, as they press to the southeast toward Berdiansk.
Or they could direct their offensive to the southwest, toward Mariupol, if it appears to present a better opportunity. Both Mariupol and Berdiansk are major port cities more than 50 miles away on the Sea of Azov.
Yet Russian forces control scores of small villages along both routes, making swift Ukrainian advances unlikely. The pace of the offensive has been slowed at every step by vast minefields, Russian attack aircraft and dug-in Russian forces.
Russia’s Vostok battalion said that after penetrating its defenses, the Ukrainians were driving to the east, toward the village of Oktyabrskoye. “About seven units of armored vehicles, accompanied by infantry, are trying to find a new promising direction,” the battalion said.
The claim could not be verified, and Ukraine’s military maintained silence about the movements of its soldiers.
Col. Petro Chernyk, speaking at a news briefing by the Ukrainian military on Tuesday, said the Russians had set up formidable defenses across southern Ukraine, with the first line covered by vast minefields stretching across miles, a second line with artillery and concentrations of troops, and a third line of rear positions meant to preserve resources.
Andriy Kovalev, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s general staff, said on Wednesday that the country’s forces also continued to make small gains along a second line of attack in southern Ukraine, pressing on Russian defensive lines around the town of Robotyne, about 50 miles north of Melitopol, a vital transit hub near the coast.
But Ukrainian forces were on the defense in the east. The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, acknowledged in a Telegram post that defending against Russia’s mounting offensive in northeastern Ukraine around the city of Kupiansk has been difficult.
Moscow’s troops have been trying to break through Ukrainian lines every day, he said, with the aim of capturing the city. He added that defending Ukrainian positions near Bahkmut, the site of the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, has also been a struggle, though maintained Ukrainian troops are holding the line and gradually moving forward.