Ukraine’s Big Offensive Kicks Off To Tough Resistance

Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive is now fully underway as its troops, backed by NATO-donated Leopard-2 tanks and other armor, have pressed forward on multiple vectors across the battlefield. Heavy losses are being reported as Ukrainian forces attempt to punch through long-entrenched Russian positions in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk oblasts.

“In the Zaporizhzhia direction in the Orikhiv area, the enemy is actively on the defensive,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday on her Telegram channel.

“Amidst a highly complex operational picture, heavy fighting continues along multiple sectors of the front. In most areas Ukraine holds the initiative,” the U.K. Defense Ministry (MoD) said on its Twitter account.

The objective is to push across the flat open fields south of the Dnipro River toward Crimea in order to cut the peninsula off from the so-called land bridge. A successful operation would go a long way toward meeting Ukraine’s desire of kicking Russia completely out of its lands and continue to keep the all-important flow of arms and financial aid coming from the U.S. and allies. An unsuccessful operation would increase pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to come to the bargaining table. It could also push foreign governments to reevaluate the flow of billions of dollars in foreign assistance to Kyiv.

Ukrainian forces “have suffered losses in heavy equipment and soldiers as they met greater than expected resistance from Russian forces in their first attempt to breach Russian lines in the east of the country in recent days,” CNN reported, citing “two senior US officials.”

“One US official described the losses – which include US supplied MRAP armored personnel vehicles as ‘significant..”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and the Pentagon declined to comment, while Ukrainian military sources, speaking anonymously to The Washington Post, confirm that the new, much more intense phase of the war has been opened.

Casualties and equipment losses – even including reports of Leopard-2 tanks – in an operation like this, especially in the early phases, are to be expected. Russian forces are certainly taking losses as well.

The information emerging from the battlefield – provided largely by pro-Russian military bloggers and the head of the Wagner mercenary group – is chaotic and unconfirmed. But the reports indicate that Ukraine has suffered significant casualties in fierce battles with the first observations of Western tanks like the Leopards in combat. 

Ukraine is trying to push through an area between Orikhiv and Tokmak in Zaporizhiz Oblast, according to several Russian Telegram channels.

This is a key area because Ukrainian forces need to drive through here if they are going to approach Crimea, a strategy we explained back in December.

The area around Orikhiv and Tokmak is a key gateway toward Crimea. (Google Earth image)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that the attacks began at 1:30 A.M. by the Ukrainian 47th Mechanized Brigade with “up to 1,500 men and 150 armored vehicles.”

The attack was stopped and Ukraine suffered “heavy losses,” Shoigu, who routinely exaggerates Ukrainian losses and underplays his own, said on the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) Telegram channel. Shoigu, as usual, offered no proof to its claims nor addressed Russian losses.

“As a result of two-hour combat the enemy lost 30 tanks, 11 infantry fighting vehicles, up to 350 troops. Thus the specially prepared reserve forces of the enemy for this breakthrough failed to fulfill their mission. Yesterday on  7 June 2023, the enemy lost 945 troops, 33 tanks, 28 infantry fighting vehicles, 38 armored fighting vehicles, three Krab self-propelled artillery systems, and other armament.”

Not surprisingly, pro-Russian Telegram channels claimed Ukraine has made little progress so far.

“The Ukrainians suffered losses in personnel and equipment, and did not achieve any tangible results, but continue to pull up infantry and armored vehicles to the line of contact,” Russian propagandist Semyon Pegov said on his influential WarGonzo Telegram channel Thursday.

“On the Orekhov-Tokmak direction, our troops are trying to dislodge the enemy infantry from their advanced positions. Unfortunately, there are losses, which is natural for such tight fights.”

The “first reliable pictures of the use of Leopard 2A4 tanks by the Armed Forces of Ukraine are in offensive operations on June 7 in the Orekhov region,” WarGonzo wrote. “Ukrainian forces have run into minefields and are covered by artillery, the attack looks ill-prepared and poorly organized. 

Reports “from the scene” indicate “that another tank, outwardly similar to the German Leopard, was destroyed,” WarGonzo wrote. 

While that information is unconfirmed, it is inevitable that in a fight like this, donated tanks and other armor will be destroyed.

“According to one of the participants, he had not seen such a tight fight for a long time,” said WarGonzo. “The guys are fighting very hard fights, but do not retreat.”

The Colonelcassad Telegram channel reports that “the armored fist of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been trying to break through the defenses of our troops near the city of Orikhiv in the Rabotino-Verbove area for 12 hours.”

A photo purporting to show Ukrainian armor on the attack in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (Turned On Z War Telegram channel image)

Operation Z, a collective of Russian military commissars, journalists and volunteers, reports that “the Armed Forces of Ukraine conducted reconnaissance in battle near Orekhovo, they lost a lot of equipment there, but they monitored the defense tactics of the RF Armed Forces, incl. – from where reinforcements will approach our positions.”

Ukrainian troops “tried to cut off our first line of reinforcements” by firing remote mines to make it “difficult for [reinforcements] to approach the breakthrough site. But our reinforcements are coming anyway. Russian soldiers continue to repel the offensive, the fighting continues for 14 hours.”

Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, made progress in an attack in southern Donetsk Oblast, WarGonzo reported. A successful drive in that direction, toward Mariupol and elsewhere along the Azov Sea coast, could cut off Russian forces from reinforcing the Zaporizhzhia front and restore Ukrainian access to the sea.

A Russian soldier with the call sign “OPG” (Operational Field General Staff) provided his insight on Ukraine’s tactics to the WarGonzo Telegram channel.

Ukrainian forces are making probing attacks to test Russian forces and drain their artillery ammunition before sending in more troops and equipment to try and punch through.

The more the Ukrainians attack, the fewer artillery shells are available.

“They tried to squeeze us and see how much equipment we have enough ammo for,” said OPG.

“No matter how much stock there is, all stock tends to run out,” said OPG about Russia’s ammunition and equipment supply. 

“The question is how long it takes, how far, convenient/not convenient to go to the ammunition supply point. With those offensive waves that are now underway, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are trying to find not so much gaps in the defense as to find weaknesses in our supply logistics. At the moment when we are conditionally empty, when we are reloading, they will try to go on the main assault.”

“Our positions were stormed nearby tonight,” he said. “As soon as they realize that the density of fire is decreasing, they go on the assault.”

One of the tactics “is to enter in a small group, move close to our positions and draw shells. They can drive up – drive off, ride along the landings. It is important for them that we give an expense.”

While “the gunners and jets are trying to catch a couple of pieces of equipment in landings, the enemy radar calculates the positions of our guns,” OPG said. “Added counter-battery work. The Armed Forces of Ukraine will try to play on the depletion of our ammunition. The offensive is a gluttonous story. All battalions are asking for fire, and the more the better. So they are now planning to catch us.”

Unlike other reports, OPG said that “we haven’t seen all the NATO toys on the battlefield yet. For some reason, ‘Leopards’ and ‘Bradley’ do not go in the forefront to clear the fields.”

But “one enemy attack is not the whole offensive,” OPG warned. “They don’t care how much they burn now – one brigade, two brigades. They have reserves. Therefore, the density of our fire must not decrease. The larger and more stable it is, the faster the enemy’s motivation will end. It is important to understand that this is only the beginning. Let’s keep our ears up.”

Ukraine, meanwhile, was able to make additional progress near the largely destroyed city of Bakhmut and repel a Russian attempt at a counteroffensive in that part of Donetsk, Maliar, the Ukrainian deputy defense minister said, an assessment that WarGonzo backed up.

Igor Girkin, a former military leader in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic who is also known by the name Igor Strelkov, said that Ukraine is currently taking heavy losses and making little progress. But Russia won’t ultimately be able to capitalize, he said.

“The obviousness of the direction of the main attacks of the enemy did not allow him to achieve operational surprise, just as it was not possible to divert reserves to secondary directions and send them…to Belgorod direction to repel” the self-proclaimed Russian partisans attacking inside Russia. 

“Our counteroffensive after repelling an enemy offensive is not to be expected even in the most optimistic scenario – the enemy, even after the defeat, will have a serious superiority in manpower and the number of combined arms formations,” Girkin said. “Without extensive mobilization and the creation of new armies and corps (300,000 additional military personnel – at least more or less normally trained, armed and equipped) – to successfully attack with the strategic goals of defeating the enemy – the [Russian] Armed Forces will not be able to.”

All this of course is in flux and Ukrainian officials are not saying much publicly.

We are watching the battle unfold and will update this story as more information becomes available.

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.