No specifics, 'this is war,' says Ukraine's Zelensky

Ukraine launches operation to push back Russian troops in Kherson

Local authorities say Ukrainian counteroffensive aims to repulse Russians across the Dnipro River; top pro-Russian official shot dead in occupied city, Russian officials say

Ukrainian soldiers on top of an Ukrainian armoured fighting vehicle are pictured on a road in the countryside of Siversk, in Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, on July 8, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)
Ukrainian soldiers on top of an Ukrainian armoured fighting vehicle are pictured on a road in the countryside of Siversk, in Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, on July 8, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive on Monday to push back Russian troops in the occupied city of Kherson, near Crimea, with the military claiming it breached the Russians’ first line of defense.

Local authorities in Ukraine said Monday that Kyiv had launched a push in the south to repulse Russian troops across the Dnipro River and retake the occupied city. Kherson, just north of the Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, was the first major city to fall to the Russians in the initial stages of the February 24th invasion. Russian forces seized Kherson, a town of 280,000 inhabitants, on March 3.

It is is the biggest Ukrainian city that the Russians now occupy, and reports about Ukrainian forces preparing for a counteroffensive in the region have circulated for weeks.

If confirmed, such an advance would represent a strategic breakthrough for Ukraine.

For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had inflicted heavy personnel and military equipment losses on Ukrainian troops trying to attack in three directions in Ukraine’s southern Kherson and Mykoaiv regions, the Russian state news agency Tass reported.

Residents reported explosions Monday at a Kherson-area bridge over the Dnipro River that is a critical Russian supply line, and Russian news reports spoke of air defense systems activating repeatedly in the city, with nighttime explosions in the sky Monday night.

Russian troops guard an entrance of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station, a run-of-the-river power plant on the Dnipro River in Kherson region, southern Ukraine, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo)

Russian-installed officials, citing Ukrainian rocket strikes, announced the evacuation of residents of nearby Nova Kakhovka — a city that Kyiv’s forces frequently target — from their workplaces to bomb shelters on Monday. In another Kherson region city, Berislav, Russian news agencies reported that Ukrainian shelling had damaged a church, a school, and other buildings.

But in a war rife with claims and counterclaims that are hard to verify independently, the Moscow-appointed regional leader of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, dismissed the Ukrainian assertion of an offensive in the Kherson region as false. He said Ukrainian forces have suffered heavy losses in the area. And Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, cautioned against “super-sensational announcements” about a counteroffensive.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted to speculation about whether his forces had launched a major counteroffensive in southern Ukraine by asking in his nightly video address Monday, “Anyone want to know what our plans are? You won’t hear specifics from any truly responsible person. Because this is war.”

Earlier, Russian investigators said a former deputy who switched allegiance from Zelensky for the occupying Russian forces in the southern region of Kherson has been shot dead.

Alexei Kovalev, “the deputy head of the military and civil administration in the Kherson region was killed by bullets,” the investigators said on Telegram. The attack took place in his home on Sunday, they said, adding a young woman who lived with him was also a victim. They did not give any further details.

In the past months, several Ukrainian officials named by Russian forces in occupied territory have been killed or wounded in attacks.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks in a trench on a position held by the Ukrainian army between southern cities of Mykolaiv and Kherson on June 12, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Genya SAVILOV / AFP)

Kovalev, 33, was elected a deputy in 2019 in Kherson and joined Zelensky’s group in the Ukrainian parliament.

After the Russian offensive on Ukraine at the end of February and the occupation of Kherson by Russian troops, Kovalev joined the invading forces and became a senior official. He survived an assassination attempt in June.

Also Monday, eight civilians were reported killed and seven wounded in the eastern Donetsk region.

Russian forces struck the cities of Sloviansk and Kostyantynivka overnight and the region’s Ukrainian governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, urged residents to evacuate immediately.

The launch of the offensive comes as inspectrs from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are on their way to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which has been the target of strikes in recent weeks.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, which has six of Ukraine’s reactors, has been occupied by Russian troops since shortly after Moscow launched its invasion on February 24, and has remained on the frontlines ever since.

Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame for shelling around the complex, near the city of Energodar

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