Since the start of the week, even as attention has focused on the aftermath of the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam, it is clear that Ukrainian forces have stepped up activities along the frontline to the southeast of the city of Zaporizhzhia.
But it is still too early to get a true picture of what is unfolding and the extent to which Ukraine really has its foot to the floor and is attempting a major push forward.
On Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defence Telegram channel quoted Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu saying Ukraine’s 47th Mechanized Brigade had made four attempts to break through Russian lines with up to 1,500 people and 150 armored vehicles.
The attacks had been repelled, Shoigu said, adding that Ukrainian forces had suffered significant losses of both soldiers and arms. The Defense Ministry in Moscow released a drone video purportedly showing a series of strikes on Ukrainian tanks during the same clash.
By contrast, on Friday morning, Semyon Pegov – among the most widely read of a group of Russian journalists and propagandists covering the war, often grouped together as Russia’s “military bloggers” – reported that Ukraine’s armed forces had made gains south of Orikhiv towards the town of Tokmak in Russian-held territory. The situation facing Russian forces was very serious, he said.
Attention has focused on this part of the frontline for months, so stepped-up Ukrainian activity there is no surprise. Breaking Russia’s land-bridge to Crimea, by rolling back Russian forces to the Sea of Azov, is clearly a central military objective for Ukraine. Tokmak lies on the road to Melitopol, one of three large cities under Russian control (the others are Berdiansk and Mariupol) that lie on or very close to the coast.
Ukrainian officials have said very little about how things are going. In his address Thursday evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky described “very tough battles.”
He added: “There is a result, and I am grateful to everyone who ensure the result!” though it is quite possible he was referring to fighting around Bakhmut, which lies along a very different part of the frontline, and where Ukrainian forces have made limited gains recently.
Another Russian military blogger writing on Telegram, Alexander Kots, has sought to frame Ukraine’s moves in the Zaporizhzhia region since the start of the week as a “Blitzkrieg” attempt that has failed.
Vladimir Rogov, a local Russian-installed leader, while also reporting Ukraine suffering “heavy losses” in “fierce fighting,” also urged caution. “The enemy has not yet engaged its main reserves in our direction. Everything is just beginning,” he wrote on Telegram.
CNN cannot independently verify claims made by Russian officials or those of well-sourced Russian military bloggers. But a local Ukrainian commander leading troops along the same front line rejected the suggestion Ukraine had begun its big attempt to recapture territory. Instead, the commander characterized the pushes as “reconnaissance in force” – operations designed to probe the enemy’s defenses for weak spots and to test its combat readiness.
Sam Kiley and Olha Konovalova contributed to this report.