Ukrainian soldiers admitted that recent efforts to advance the counteroffensive have met more difficult Russian opposition than they had expected as they continue to push toward enemy territory.
“Our mission was planned to take two days. But we couldn’t drive in during the darkness at the right time, for a few reasons. So we drove in later and lost the right moment,” a 29-year-old soldier who did not give his name, told Reuters.
“The Russians were waiting for us,” he explained. “They fired anti-tank weapons and grenade launchers at us. My vehicle drove over an anti-tank mine, but everything was OK, the vehicle took the hit, and everyone was alive.”
“We dismounted and ran toward the cover because the most important is to find cover and then move on,” he added.
Russia’s invasion has hit a slow-burn phase after nearly 18 months of intense fighting, focusing primarily on Kyiv’s counteroffensive and Moscow’s efforts to hold their gains.
Ukraine initiated a major counteroffensive to retake regions in the east that Russia took early on and held since the start of the invasion, but officials have remained silent about the initiative’s progress, only saying that troops have advanced toward the city of Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia.
A Russian ballistic missile attack on Monday hit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown, destroying an apartment complex and killing six people with 75 others wounded in the blast, Ukrainian officials said.
“Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia – to its symbolic centers and military bases, and this is an inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process,” Zelenskyy said Sunday night.
Ukrainian troops described to Reuters the difficult conditions they faced during a recent push toward Staromaiorske, which commanders said required a slow approach to limit casualties.
“They methodically destroyed the roads,” a 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier called “Dub” explained. “They made pits that prevented driving in and out of the village, even in dry weather. Even walking was quite hard. You can’t use flashlights at night, but you still have to advance.”
Another soldier calling himself Pikachu said Ukraine’s forces advance “slowly but surely.”
“They were shooting, everything was flying,” the soldier said. “It was scary, but we moved on. Nobody fell back. Everyone did a great job. Many of us who went will never return home.”
Russia continues to stress that Ukraine’s counteroffensive “is not working out as planned,” with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov going so far as to accuse Kyiv of “inefficiently” spending the money and resources provided by NATO countries.
“This raises big questions in Western capitals and great discomfort among taxpayers in Western countries,” Peskov said.
U.S. officials over the past month have repeatedly refuted Russia’s assessment, claiming that the long-term view remains that the counteroffensive will take time to pay the necessary dividends for Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said Ukraine is engaged in “an intense battle” but declined to provide details.
“We believe that tools, the equipment, the training, the advice that many of us have shared with Ukrainians over many months puts them in good position to be successful on the ground in recovering more of the territory that Russia has taken from Ukraine,” Blinken said during a recent visit to New Zealand.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.