Ukraine said it has taken back the eastern village of Klishchiivka, in what would be Ukraine’s second significant gain in three days in its months-long counteroffensive against the Russian army.
The village lies on higher ground about 9km (6 miles) south of Bakhmut and has been the scene of intense fighting for weeks.
“Today, I would like to particularly commend the soldiers who, step by step, are returning to Ukraine what belongs to it, namely in the area of Bakhmut,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation on Sunday.
The breakthrough in Klishchiivka comes days after Kyiv said it had gained control of the tiny nearby village of Andriivka and as Zelenskyy prepares for his second wartime visit to the United States, a key ally.
Zelenskyy said that Kyiv was “preparing new defence solutions for Ukraine” and that “air defence and artillery are the priority”, without providing details. It began its counteroffensive to clear Russian troops from its territory in June.
Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces who is also in operational control of the counteroffensive, posted a video of Ukrainian troops displaying the blue and yellow national flag on ruined buildings with the sound of fighting in the background.
“Klishchiivka was cleared of the Russians,” Syrsky, who has often visited the Bakhmut front line to devise strategy and boost the troops’ morale, said on social media.
Klishchiivka was home to about 400 people before Moscow launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and was captured by Russian troops in January of this year.
There was no word from Moscow on its positions in the area. It previously denied reports that its troops had been pushed out of Andriivka.
Ilya Yevlash, spokesman for Ukrainian troops in the east, said that control over Klishchiivka could help the Ukrainian army encircle Bakhmut, captured by Russia in May after one of the war’s longest and bloodiest battles.
Yevlash said the battle had inflicted “powerful damage” on Russian airborne units, the Akhmat battalion of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, Storm-Z made up of Russian criminals, the Russian General Staff’s military intelligence and motorised rifle units.
“We have now gained a staging ground, which will in the future allow us to continue to develop offensive actions and liberate our land from the occupiers,” he said in a televised statement.
Analysts said the capture of the two villages was an important breakthrough.
“The liberation of Klishchiivka, as well as continued Ukrainian tactical gains northwest of Bakhmut are gains of strategic significance because they are allowing Ukrainian forces to fix a considerable portion of Russian airborne elements in the Bakhmut area,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, DC-based think tank, wrote in its daily update on the fighting.
The latest news from Kyiv came as the US’s highest-ranking military officer sought to temper hopes for a swift advance in the counteroffensive.
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while the effort had been “slower than the planners had anticipated”, it had been “steady”.
He dismissed suggestions from some that the offensive had failed, arguing that Ukraine had “a lot of combat power remaining. The Ukrainians are not a spent force”.
However, he warned: “It’ll take a considerable length of time to militarily eject all 200,000 or plus Russian troops out of Russian-occupied Ukraine. That’s a very high bar. It’s going to take a long time to do it.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also warned there would be no swift end to the conflict, in an interview published on Sunday.
“Most wars last longer than expected when they first begin,” Stoltenberg told Germany’s Funke media group.
“Therefore we must prepare ourselves for a long war in Ukraine,” even if everyone is wishing for a swift peace.
Kyiv has also begun pushing back against Moscow’s forces in the south after building up Western weapons and recruiting more soldiers for its assault battalions.
Intelligence updates from the US and United Kingdom suggested there had been more progress on the southern front with the ISW saying Ukrainian forces had probably “made a significant tactical breach” along a section of the southern front line.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence, meanwhile, said that Russian forces were reinforcing their secondary defensive line around the occupied town of Tokmak, about 16km (10 miles) behind the southern front line, amid “Russia’s growing concern about Ukrainian tactical penetrations of the first main defensive line to the north”.