Ukraine claims recapture of Donetsk villages in 'first results' of counter-offensive

Footage shows troops raising national flag after apparent territorial advances

Soldiers with the Ukrainian flag in what Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said was Storozheve in Donetsk. Photo: Hanna Maliar / Telegram
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Ukraine has said its soldiers have made territorial advances on three villages in its south-east, hoisting the national flag in the first liberated settlements Kyiv has reported since it launched its counter-offensive.

Ukrainian forces posted unverified videos showing soldiers raising the flag at a bombed-out building in the village of Blahodatne, in the breakaway enclave of Donetsk, and posing with their unit's flag in the neighbouring village of Neskuchne.

“We're seeing the first results of the counter-offensive actions – localised results,” said Valeryi Shershen, a Ukrainian military representative.

Hanna Maliar, Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister, also posted a photo on Monday, showing soldiers with the Ukrainian flag at what she said was the village of Storozheve in Donetsk.

Ms Maliar later said her country's forces had “deoccupied” Makarivka, immediately south of Storozheve, and advanced by between 300 and 1,500 metres in two directions on the southern front.

“No positions were lost on the directions where our forces are on the defensive,” she added on Telegram.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised his troops in his nightly video address but made no reference to the specific areas where the fighting was reported.

“Of course, I am thankful to our soldiers for this day,” he said, referring only to the two main sectors of the fighting in the east and the south. “Each one of our combat brigades, each of our units.”

A video from Blahodatne showed Ukrainian troops inside a heavily damaged building as the sound of artillery rumbled in the distance.

"We're kicking the enemy out from our native lands. It's the warmest feeling there is. Ukraine is going to win, Ukraine above everything," an unidentified soldier said in the video on Facebook.

UN concerns over water levels at nuclear plant

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it needed wider access around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to check “a significant discrepancy” at the breached Kakhovka dam, from where water is used to cool the plant's reactors.

Nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi, who is expected to visit Zaporizhzhia this week, said the measurements the agency received from the inlet of the plant showed the dam's water levels were stable for about a day at the weekend.

“However, the height is reportedly continuing to fall elsewhere in the huge reservoir, causing a possible difference of about two metres,” Mr Grossi said.

“The height of the water level is a key parameter for the continued operability of the water pumps.”

Dam collapse evolving into ecological catastrophe

The destruction of the Kakhovka dam is a fast-moving disaster that is swiftly evolving into a long-term environmental catastrophe, experts said.

The short-term dangers can be seen from outer space, from images showing flooded land.

For every flooded home and farm, there are fields upon fields of newly planted grain, fruit and vegetables whose irrigation canals are drying up.

Thousands of fish have been stranded on mudflats while fledgling water birds have lost their nests and food sources. Countless trees and plants remained submerged on Monday.

The draining of the Kakhovka reservoir creates an uncertain future for the region of southern Ukraine that was an arid plain until the damming of the Dnipro river 70 years ago.

The dam was the last in a system of six Soviet-era dams on the river that flows from Belarus to the Black Sea.

The Dnipro became part of the battle front line after Russia's invasion last year.

“All this territory formed its own particular ecosystem, with the reservoir included,” said Kateryna Filiuta, an expert in protected habitats for the Ukraine Nature Conservation Group.

The Ukrainian-appointed governor of Kherson region on Sunday said Russian forces had shelled three boats evacuating mainly elderly people to safety, killing three and injuring 10.

And Mr Shershen, the military spokesman, later told a radio interviewer that Russian forces had blown up a smaller hydroelectric dam near the scene of heavy fighting in an attempt to disrupt the Ukrainian advance.

"This led to the flooding of both banks of the Mokri Yaly river," he told Ukrainian NV Radio. "This, however, does not affect our counter-offensive actions."

Updated: June 12, 2023, 8:20 AM