Ukrainian officials acknowledge that they are facing a tough fight as they conduct counteroffensive operations across the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
“Over the course of the day, the enemy increased the number of missile and air strikes and artillery and mortar attacks,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday on her Telegram channel. “Our troops are dealing with strong enemy resistance and their superiority in numbers of men and weapons.”
As Ukraine conducts offensive and defense actions “in several directions,” Maliar said the Russians are pulling up reserves from several areas and concentrating forces in the eastern sector of the front lines, which is in the Donetsk Oblast.
Still, Ukraine is making progress, said Maliar.
Ukraine's forces in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk Oblasts have advanced about a kilometer each, Maliar said.
“Fighting continues in the areas of Makarivka,” along the Mokri Yaly River in western Donetsk Oblast said Maliar. Fighting is also taking place around Novoprovka in central Zaporizhizhia Oblast, she said.
Maliar also claimed success in fighting around war-scarred Bakhmut.
In an interview with NBC news, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also acknowledged the tough fight.
“I cannot give you all the details,” he said about the counteroffensive. ”There are also defensive and offensive actions. Things look not bad. I would say it’s generally positive, but it's difficult. Our heroic people, our troops are now at the front of the frontline are facing very tough resistance. And you understand why? Because for Russia to lose this campaign to Ukraine, I would say, actually means losing the war.”
The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, claims that it has pushed back Ukrainian forces across the front lines.
Near the Vremevka salient in western Donetsk Oblast close to the Zaporizhiz border near the Mokri Yaly River, “aviation, artillery, and heavy flamethrower systems of the Vostok Group of Forces have repelled two attacks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the areas of Novopol in Donetsk Oblast, and Levadnoye in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, the Russian MoD claimed. “Up to 25 Ukrainian troops and three tanks have been neutralized.”
The Russian MoD also claimed small victories elsewhere across the front lines, as well.
But Russian Telegram channels, like the Kremlin-connected Rybar, anticipate an increase in Ukrainian attacks, with a possible offensive in the Robotyne area of central Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
Determining what is actually happening is challenging given that we are forced to rely largely on Ukrainian and Russian sources who obviously have their own spins to add in this heated information battlefield. But it is likely the picture will become clearer over time. You can read the U.S. Defense Department's take on the status of the counteroffensive a little deeper into this story.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
As it continues to face Russian missile and drone attacks on its cities, Ukraine will receive hundreds more air defense missiles, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Thursday.
Several countries “stepped up today with new commitments for Ukraine,” Austin told reporters Thursday after the conclusion of the 13th Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) meeting, held today in Brussels, Belgium.
“Canada committed another $500 million package to support Ukraine, and that will include more than 200 critical air defense missiles to help protect Ukraine skies and the United States along with the UK, Denmark and Netherlands, all contributed funding for additional critical air defense missiles for Ukraine,” Austin said.
Italy “also announced this latest tranche of assistance which includes highly critical capabilities that Ukraine most urgently needs to defend itself.”
In addition, “Norway and Germany announced multi-year packages and Denmark just announced its own nearly $2.6 million package for military assistance through 2024."
Austin downplayed Ukraine’s loss of military equipment like U.S.-donated M4A2-ODS Bradley Fighting Vehicles and German-donated Leopard 2 tanks seen in widely-publicized imagery, which you can read more about in our interview with an armor expert here.
“Regarding battlefield losses of vehicles and equipment, this is a war so we know that there will battle damage on both sides,” he said.
“And what's important is that the Ukrainians have the ability to recover equipment that's been damaged and repair it where possible [and] get that equipment back into the fight.”
It’s also important, he added, that the U.S. and allies “have a means to continue to push capability forward.”
“So there will continue to be battle damage. I think the Russians have shown us the same five vehicles about 1,000 times from 10 different angles,” he said. “But quite frankly, the Ukrainians still have a lot of combat capability, combat power.”
Sustaining equipment will be a key to victory, said Austin, a major reason why the US. and its allies are continuing to provide security assistance to Ukraine.
“This will continue to be a tough fight as we anticipated, and I believe that the the element that does the best in terms of sustainment will probably have the advantage at the end of the day. So our focus is on making sure that we continue to push for what Ukraine needs in order to be successful.”
Speaking at the same media briefing, Army Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was too early to assess the progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive or how long it could take.
“It’s very, very premature to put any estimates on how long - time on an operation of this magnitude. There are several hundred thousand Russian troops dug in, in prepared positions, all along the frontline. And Ukraine has begun their attack and they're making steady progress.”
This “is a very difficult fight,” he added. “It's a very violent fight. And it will likely take some amount of time and high costs but at the end of the day…the Ukrainian morale, their leadership, their skill, the tenacity, the resilience is very high. The Russians on the other hand, their leadership is not necessarily coherent. Their troops’ morale is not high. They are assuming defensive positions and many of them don’t even know why they are there. So I’ll say it’s too early to tell. We'll see how this plays out."
But to give Ukraine its best fighting chance, Milley said that tens of thousands of its troops have been trained by the U.S. and partners.
“More than 6,000 Ukrainians are being trained right now at 40 different training locations, training locations, in 65 courses in 33 nations on three continents. That is all happening right now. Today,.”
Since the beginning of the all-out war, “the United States has trained over 11,000 Ukrainians in combined arms maneuver and staff training.”
The U.S. training effort, he added, “has created over 12 maneuver battalions - nearly 5,000 operators that are fighting in those machines right now, along with their combined arms staffs.”
In addition, the U.S. is currently training three additional Ukrainian battalions - a tank battalion and two National Guard battalions, Milley said.
“The international effort has trained almost 60,000 Ukrainian soldiers for this current operation, many of whom are engaged in close combat as we stand here today,” Milley said.
As for the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s, Austin said that UDCG attendees were briefed Thursday on the outline of the Danish/Dutch-led international effort. You can read more about that in our story here.
“This work continues,” he said. “We were briefed today on kind of the outline of the plan and the steps for the way ahead. And I have to tell you that 30 days that we've been after this, they have leaned into this in a major way. As you know the United States will have to provide approval for the training and also some other aspects of this. And as you would expect, we continue to work with the Netherlands and Denmark as they put this plan together. But, again, this will take some time, but they're really moving out in a very impressive way. And they're getting support from other partners in the UDCG.”
Milley, however, said "it would be premature to give a specific date...that F-16s or any other type of advanced aircraft will be employed in combat in Ukraine. There's a lot of work to do. You have to do language training. You have to pilot training. You've got to get all the systems set in place. So those those wheels are in motion, but we're a ways from completion of that project."
Speaking of training for Ukrainian troops, the Defense Department's Inspector General Office issued a report today that says the effort is largely succeeding.
From April through December 2022, the 7th Army Training Command (ATC) facilitated training for Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel on 17 platforms approved for transfer to Ukraine, including howitzers, mortars, and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.
“Based on our analysis of the training provided and platforms approved for transfer to Ukraine, we did not identify any instance when the 7th ATC did not provide [Ukrainian]-requested operational or maintenance training,” the report stated.
In fact, much of the training was truncated because the Ukrainian troops were already combat experienced.
Officials from the 7th ATC said that operational units did not train the Ukrainian personnel to U.S. Army standards or doctrine “because Ukraine sent its personnel to Grafenwoehr for training for a short time” which enabled them to “rapidly return to the fight in Ukraine.”
For example, the operational training provided to Ukrainians for the M119 howitzer was six days; by comparison, advanced individual training for a cannon crewmember in the U.S. Army lasts seven weeks. Similarly, the M119 howitzer maintenance program of instruction was nine days, but artillery mechanic advanced individual training in the U.S. Army lasts 15 weeks.
“A Ukrainian official explained that short-duration programs of instruction were sufficient because the UAF attending platform training were, generally, experienced fighters who needed only familiarization training with the platforms provided through the presidential drawdowns.”
In some cases, the Ukrainians didn’t even want training on some of the platforms.
The report states that 7th ATC officials explained that "the Switchblade 300 was an easy drone to operate, and the [Ukrainian troops] were proficient in using drones and did not need training for it. In addition, equipment such as the AT4 [anti-tank weapon], did not require training because it is a simple, single-use launcher that is discarded after firing. Furthermore, the TPQ/AN-49 radar was provided to Ukraine in 2015 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Therefore, [Ukrainian troops] already knew how to operate this radar.”
Meanwhile, Operation INTERFLEX, the U.K.-led effort to train Ukrainian recruits, is continuing apace. Since the start of the training program back in June 2022, Operation INTERFLEX has trained over 10,000 recruits, according to the U.K. Defense Ministry (MoD). The program has been extended with an aim of training up to 20,000 in 2023. the MoD said.
The Ukrainians have clearly mastered the HIMARS.
"In the area of the city of Bakhmut, operators of one of the units of the [Ukrainian special operations forces] SSO in cooperation with HIMARS destroyed two enemy complexes," the SSO claimed today on its Telegram channel.
"Soldiers of the SSO scouted the positions of the ZOOPARK-1 artillery reconnaissance radar complex and the Borisoglebsk-2 electronic warfare station. Information about the location was quickly transferred to the comrades from the missile and artillery unit. In the course of the fire attack, enemy equipment and almost all of the enemy's manpower were destroyed. A few managed to survive, but not for long. We continue to work."
Analyst Rob Lee, however, posited that the HIMARS strike may have taken out a Zhitel EW system instead of the Borisoglebsk-2.
The Zoopark-1 systems are a popular Ukrainian target, as this video below shows.
Japan is in talks to provide artillery shells to the U.S. to bolster stocks for Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Such a move would represent a major change for Japan, which has long avoided exporting lethal weapons.
As Ukraine presses its counteroffensive, the global hunt for artillery shells has increased. With the U.S. already having provided Ukraine with more than two million 155mm artillery rounds since the beginning of the all-out invasion, finding additional supplies are important.
"Japan is considering supplying 155mm artillery shells to the U.S. under a 2016 agreement that allows the two countries to share ammunition as part of their longstanding security alliance," the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the talks. "The shells would help replenish U.S. supplies as it supports Ukraine’s war effort, according to these people."
Norway and Denmark agreed to donate an additional 9,000 rounds of artillery to Ukraine, the Norwegian Defense Ministry (MoD) reported Thursday.
"Norway provides the shells, while Denmark donates fuzes and propellant charges. Norway is also donating 7,000 rounds from own stocks. These are already sent to Ukraine."
"Ukraine has an urgent need for artillery ammunition. We have therefore decided to join forces with Denmark for a new donation, so that Ukraine receives the ammunition as quickly as possible," said Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram.
So far, the Bradleys provided to Ukraine have been saving lives, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday on her Telegram channel.
During a combat mission, a Bradley belonging to the 47th brigade “received a direct missile hit in the tower and caught fire,” Maliar wrote, citing the brigade. “The crew evacuated safely, and the driver-mechanic took the armored vehicle to a safe position and extinguished the fire. The consequences are a slight contusion of one of the soldiers.”
This incident “proves that the unsurpassed combat survivability claimed by the manufacturer of armored vehicles is not just words,” said Maliar. “Bradley helps save the most precious thing — the lives of military personnel. And steel can always be restored. There is no technology that cannot be destroyed, there is technology that saves lives.”
You can read more about what the Bradley brings to the table for Ukraine, including crew survivability, in our deep dive here.
Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov denies the official Russian media outlet RIA Novosti's claim that he was injured during a May 29 missile barrage on Kyiv.
"I’m not ghost ))))," he told The War Zone Thursday afternoon. "And believe me, I’m not wounded and stay in my headquarters."
He did acknowledge that the building was slightly damaged during that attack.
"A little bit," he said when asked if the headquarters was damaged during the barrage.
Apparently not so lucky were about 100 Russian troops killed in a HIMARS strike while waiting for a general to speak, according to Russian Telegram channels.
The incident took place near Kreminna in Luhansk Oblast, according to the Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel
“A tragic incident occurred in one of the divisions that were going to go on the offensive. For two hours people stood in a crowd in one place and waited for the division commander to say his motivating word. But instead of him, the HIMARS MLRS and enemy artillery had their say.”
As a result, “in the Yuzhnodonetsk direction, in a few days there were fewer victims in the battles than from the criminal stupidity of the division commander.”
Other Russian Telegram channels were equally incensed.
“Bitch, you can't stand in a column for two hours in one place!" the Two Majors Telegram channel wrote. "Well, what are you doing, father commanders, you are commanding people! The Armed Forces of Ukraine have no merit in this war. We are at war with our own stupidity and sloppiness, smeared from above with beautiful reports.”
"If by the middle of the second year of the war there are commanders that carry columns to the front and build personnel in one big pile, and then wait for the enemy artillery to strike, then such commanders must be shot before the formation, even if they are colonels or even generals," the Older Than Edda Telegram channel complained.
Ukraine's national security service, the SBU, claims its "White Wolf" drone unit scored 14 kills on Russian equipment overnight, including seven tanks. SBU posted video of the kills, which you can see below.
Ukraine's "Magyar Birds" drone unit also posted video of the destruction of Russian equipment, which you can watch below.
Russian drone operators are also working, but sometimes they miss, as appears to be the case in this video below - of attempted Iranian-made Shahed-136 strikes - shows.
Ukrainian forces weren't so lucky in the video below of a Lancet strike on a P-18 surveillance radar shows. Clearly, the wood shelter built around it didn't do the job.
The first image of a Swedish-donated CV9040C infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) in Ukraine has emerged. As we wrote about back in January, Sweden promised about 50 of these vehicles, among the best IFVs available in Europe.
The Wall Street Journal posted a really interesting interview with Russian draftee Ruslan Anitin, who became an internet icon of sorts after surrendering to a Ukrainian drone last month.
"He stood up without his rifle and gestured with his hands to stop attacking. Footage recorded by the drones shows him drawing his finger across his neck and shaking his head—his plea to the Ukrainians not to kill him if he surrendered.
He didn’t have a clear plan, he said, but thought it was worth a shot.
In another set of trenches a few hundred feet away, the Ukrainian drone pilots were suspicious, they later recalled, fearing a trap.
The pilots watched Anitin’s body language and used the drones to respond—up and down for yes, left and right for no. They would flash a light on the drones—once for yes and twice for no—a system that he proposed to them through a series of hand gestures.
Anitin didn’t know whether he would be understood. When the drone started moving away, he said, he was filled with relief and decided to follow it."
Ukraine isn't just capturing tanks and other armor during this conflict. Its troops are also collecting a wealth of small arms from the Russians, as you can see from this video below.
The fallout from the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam across the Dnipro River continues.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi visited the Zarporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP)Thursday, Ukraine's Energoatom atomic energy agency reported on its Telegram channel.
Despite the reduced flow of the Dnipro resulting from the dam destruction, water levels are adequate needed to keep the ZNPP safe, Energoatom reported on its homepage.
"As of 10 a.m. on June 14, the water level in the Kakhovsky Reservoir in the Nikopol area continues to decrease, and the water level in the cooling pond of the Zaporizhzhya NPP is 16.67 m. This is quite enough to meet the station's needs."
"It is worth reminding that the ZNPP power units have not been operating since September 2022, so since then active evaporation of water from the cooling pond has not occurred."
The water levels have dropped so far that resident of Nikopol can almost walk across the drained Dnipro to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
And there are health concerns as well, with indications found of rotavirus A and salmonella.
Ukrainian residents living on the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro claim they were not provided any services, but instead left stranded and screaming for help.
And finally, a tall, shaky structure in the middle of a war zone is probably not the best place to set up defenses, as these Russian troops found out.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when we have more news to report about Ukraine.
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