Ukrainian Forces Reportedly Make Important Gains in Surprise Northern Counteroffensive

Dimitri Simes | September 8, 2022 | 5:49pm EDT
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A Ukrainian honor guard member ats a ceremony to mark National Flag Day, in Lviv last month. (Photo by Yuriy Dyachyshyn / AFP via Getty Images)
A Ukrainian honor guard member ats a ceremony to mark National Flag Day, in Lviv last month. (Photo by Yuriy Dyachyshyn / AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Ukraine’s armed forces have reportedly captured several towns and villages in a surprise counteroffensive against Russian troops in the northeastern Kharkiv province.

Following a massive artillery barrage, Ukrainian troops on Wednesday launched an attack on the Russian-controlled frontline town of Balakliya, home to nearly 27,000 people before the start of the conflict. The town is considered to be an important strategic asset due to its location on a major highway that runs through the broader Kharkiv province.

Ukrainian forces began their counteroffensive by seizing settlements to the north and south of Balakliya in a bid to encircle Russian troops in the town. The Russian military sought to repel the attack by deploying reinforcements to Balakliya and sending aviation support, according to reports by several Russian open source intelligence Telegram channels.

As of Thursday evening local time, videos on social media appeared to show Ukrainian troops entering the center of Balakleya and the Ukrainian flag being raised over the town’s administrative building. Neither side has officially confirmed the fall of Balakleya.

Ukrainian forces have also reportedly begun to push farther north towards the town of Kupyansk, another important logistical hub for Russian forces in Kharkiv province. Russian-installed officials in Kupyansk announced on Thursday that they had begun evacuating women and children and preparing the town’s defenses.

During a press briefing on Thursday, Ukrainian Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov claimed that Kyiv’s forces had recaptured 20 settlements in the Kharkiv province and pushed up to 50 kilometers behind Russian lines since the start of the counteroffensive. The Russian Defense Ministry did not provide any update on the situation in Kharkiv during its daily briefing on Thursday.

The counteroffensive was widely discussed on Russian social media, with military journalists and bloggers urging Moscow to take urgent steps to tighten defenses in Kharkiv.

“If the enemy moves 20 kilometers into territory controlled by our forces, and in some places by as much as 30 kilometers, then that means that our defenses [in the area] are not so great,” Alexander Kots, a war correspondent for the pro-Kremlin Komosomolskaya Pravda newspaper, said during a livestream on Thursday evening.

A map shows the location of Balakleya, a strategically located town in the Kharkiv region that has reportedly been recaptured by Ukrainian forces. (Google Maps)
A map shows the location of Balakleya, a strategically located town in the Kharkiv region that has reportedly been recaptured by Ukrainian forces. (Google Maps)

Located near the border with Russia, Kharkiv is home to Ukraine’s second largest city and a significant portion of the country’s heavy industry. The province has served as a major battlefield between Russian and Ukrainian forces ever since the conflict broke out more than six months ago.

Before the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russian troops controlled nearly a third of Kharkiv province, which they used as launching pad for their advances into the Donbass region.

Kharkiv is not the only area where Ukrainian forces are seeking to regain territory lost earlier in the conflict. In the final days of August, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive against Russian troops in the southern province of Kherson.

That large-scale attack was preceded by nearly two months of Ukrainian artillery bombardment against Russia’s logistical infrastructure in the region. Ukraine claims to have recaptured several villages in Kherson, but the claims are difficult to verify since Kyiv recently barred reporters from visiting the frontlines.

Despite this restriction, some information about the state of the Kherson counteroffensive has found its way into the media. Mark Ayres, a former British soldier currently fighting alongside the Ukrainian military in Kherson, told CNN Ukrainian forces were forced to advance “meter by meter” since they lacked the necessary artillery and armored vehicles to attempt a “massive blitzkrieg” in the province.

A similar picture was painted by several wounded Ukrainian soldiers who spoke to the Washington Post, saying they frequently found themselves outgunned by Russian artillery and under constant surveillance from Russian drones and radar systems. One Ukrainian platoon commander reported that his unit lost five troops for every casualty on the Russian side.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, U.S. and Ukrainian officials have expressed confidence that Kyiv could succeed in recapturing most of the Kherson region before the end of the year.

Speaking to military officials from allied governments at a U.S. airbase in Germany, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Ukrainian forces were showing “demonstrable success” on the battlefield during their recent counteroffensives.

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