The general in command of Ukrainian ground forces said his troops have routed three of the best Russian brigades fighting on the front lines in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine.
General Oleksandr Syrskyi also said on Monday that the recapture of two eastern Ukrainian villages in recent days – Klishchiivka and Andriivka, both of which are located on higher ground near the destroyed town of Bakhmut – was an important breakthrough.
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“In the fighting in the Bakhmut section, some of the enemy’s best units have been crushed and have completely lost their combat power,” Syrskyi said in a statement.
The Russian units in question were the 72nd Motor Rifle Brigade as well as the 31st and 83rd Air Assault Brigades.
Hailing the recapture of Klishchiivka and Andriivka, Syrskyi said Ukrainian forces were continuing their advance and had some success piercing Russian defence lines, though Moscow’s forces were counterattacking from multiple directions in a bid to regain their lost positions.
“These settlements, at first glance small, were important elements in the enemy’s defensive line which stretched from Bakhmut to Horlivka,” Syrskyi said on the Telegram messaging app, referring to a town about 40km (25 miles) from Bakhmut.
“As a result of our troops’ successful actions, the enemy’s defensive line – which it tried to close by throwing all available reserves into battle – was breached,” he said.
??Commander: Ukrainian forces breach Russian defensive line near Bakhmut.
Ukrainian troops have broken through one of the Russian defensive lines near Donetsk Oblast’s Bakhmut, Land Forces Commander Oleksandr Syrskyi reported on Sept. 18.https://t.co/JFn2GCcE0i
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) September 18, 2023
Ukrainian military spokesperson Ilia Yevlash also underlined the tactical importance of Klishchiivka, saying in televised comments that its recapture exposed the southern flank of Bakhmut and was “a favourable springboard for further progress”.
Russian forces captured the town of Bakhmut in May but Ukrainian forces continued to fight in fierce urban warfare that became one of the bloodiest and longest battles since Russia invaded last year.
Russia denied on Saturday that it had lost control of Andriivka and the latest Ukrainian claims of battlefield gains against Russian forces could not be independently verified.
Washington, DC-based think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said on Monday that Ukraine’s advances south of Bakhmut and claims of destroying the combat capabilities of the three Russian brigades could indicate significant losses for Moscow.
“These VDV [Russian airborne] elements were involved in counterattacking and attempting to roll back Ukrainian advances around Bakhmut… and likely suffered heavy losses,” the ISW said.
The ISW also said that Russian forces south of Bakhmut were “likely battle-weary from recent efforts to hold” Klishchiivka and Andriivka.
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) September 19, 2023
Ukraine has now regained approximately 50sq kms (more than 19sq miles) of land around Bakhmut since the start of its long-anticipated counteroffensive in June, the slow progress of which has been criticised by some of Kyiv’s Western backers.
Ukraine officials have acknowledged the slow pace of their advance but have pointed to the strength of Russian defences, including trenches and huge minefields, which Moscow had months to prepare while Kyiv was waiting on the delivery of promised tanks from Western allies.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar, who was one of six deputy defence ministers removed on Monday as part of a reshuffle under the new defence minister, said earlier that Ukrainian forces had retaken 51sq km (19sq miles) near Bakhmut and more than 260sq km (100sq miles) of land in the south of the country during the counteroffensive.