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Ukrainians signaling counteroffensive near

by Compiled byDemocrat-Gazette stafffrom wire reports | May 28, 2023 at 3:45 a.m.
A Ukrainian soldier jumping off the German self-propelled Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery at his position at the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, May 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukraine's military intelligence has claimed, without offering evidence, that Russia is plotting a "large-scale provocation" at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the southeast of the country with the aim of disrupting a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive.

"It's time to get back what's ours," Ukraine's supreme military commander, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, wrote in a statement.

The statement was accompanied Saturday by a video of Ukrainian troops preparing for battle and released on social media. But Zaluzhnyi offered no indication of where and when Ukrainian forces might try to break Russia's hold on occupied territory.

Other senior Ukrainian officials also suggested that the counteroffensive was imminent.

Oleksiy Danilov, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told the BBC in an interview released Saturday that Ukraine's forces were "ready" and that a large-scale assault could come "tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week."

Ukraine has spent months amassing a powerful arsenal of Western-supplied weapons and training tens of thousands of soldiers in sophisticated offensive maneuvers for the campaign, which military analysts have suggested will most likely focus on Russian-occupied areas of southern and eastern Ukraine.

There were no public indications of large-scale troop movements along the vast front line Saturday morning.

Ukraine and Russia have engaged in robust informational campaigns using videos and social media throughout the war. But the statements from Zaluzhnyi and Danilov come as a growing number of senior Ukrainian officials -- including the head of military intelligence -- have said in recent days that Ukraine now has what it needs to go on the attack.

In many ways, military analysts have noted, the counteroffensive may already have begun.

For weeks, Ukraine has apparently been seeking to set the stage for the campaign and "shape" the battlefield through a series of coordinated strikes deep behind enemy lines aimed at undermining critical Russian logistical operations, degrading Russia's combat abilities and compromising Moscow's capacity to move its forces around the battlefield.

In recent days, the tempo and range of attacks deep inside Russian-held territory have increased. While Ukraine's military has not explicitly claimed responsibility, local Russian proxy officials in occupied areas have reported strikes.


Adding to speculation that the start of a counteroffensive was near, internet and telecommunications went down in some Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine late Friday.

NetBlocks, which tracks internet outages around the world, said internet service was disrupted on the Crimean Peninsula and in parts of the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine -- including in the town of Enerhodar, where Russian forces are occupying Europe's largest nuclear power plant. Internet service also went down in Berdiansk and Melitopol, two strategically important cities that Russia has turned into military strongholds, according to NetBlocks.

"The reason for the internet outage is interruptions in the work of the Russian internet provider Miranda Media, which operates in Crimea," the organization reported.

The outage came as Russia and Ukraine accused each other of preparing a provocation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is not far from the front line. On Saturday, the morning after Ukrainian military intelligence warned that Russia was preparing to "simulate an accident" at the plant, Ukrainian officials said the night had passed without incident.

The Zaporizhzhia power plant is one of the 10 biggest nuclear plants in the world. It is located in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region in southeastern Ukraine. The plant's six reactors have been shut down for months, but it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Fighting near it repeatedly disrupted power supplies and has fueled fears of a potential catastrophe like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world's worst nuclear disaster.


Ukrainian officials have been deliberately vague in outlining their military plans, most likely in hopes of maintaining an element of surprise in what has become a widely telegraphed campaign.

They have said the counteroffensive would not be marked by a single event and would probably feature feints and deceptions at the outset. At the same time, Ukrainian officials also have sought to temper expectations, warning of a long and bloody fight in the months to come.

Russia still controls more than 40,000 square miles of land across southern and eastern Ukraine, which amounts to about 17% of the country, and has had months to fortify its defensive positions.

While Ukraine continues to seek more advanced weapons for its forces, senior Ukrainian and Western officials have said in recent days that Ukrainian forces have what they need to launch the counteroffensive. And the arsenal will continue to grow.

A week after President Joe Biden told U.S. allies that he would allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, a step toward eventually letting other countries give the planes to Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers started training in Germany on how to operate and maintain U.S. M1 Abrams tanks, according to the Pentagon.

About 200 of the troops -- roughly one armored battalion -- began Friday conducting what the military calls combined arms instruction at training ranges in Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, Germany, Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement.

While the timing of the counteroffensive remained unclear, the statement from Zaluzhnyi was the most direct indication that the hour was drawing near.

The video that accompanied his statement was broadcast on national television and quickly spread across social media platforms.

Titled "Prayer for the Liberation of Ukraine" -- a nod to a nationalist poem from the 1920s -- it featured Ukrainian soldiers preparing for battle and vowing to "destroy" their enemies.

"Bless our decisive offensive!" the soldiers chant.


In other developments, Ukraine's national police said a 60-year-old man was killed Saturday evening by Russian shelling in the city of Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, about 20 miles from the Russian border.

Russia reported Saturday more attacks on its territory, with drones crashing in its western regions and areas on the border with Ukraine coming under shelling.

Two drones attacked an administrative building of an oil company in Russia's western Pskov region that borders Belarus, Latvia and Estonia, Pskov Gov. Mikhail Vedernikov reported Saturday. The building was damaged as the result of an explosion, Vedernikov said.

Another drone went down in the Tver region about 90 miles north of Moscow, local authorities said.

Russia's Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine came under multiple rounds of shelling Saturday, killing one person, according to its governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov. In the neighboring Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, one person was killed by cross-border mortar fire, Gov. Roman Starovoit said.

The British military said Saturday that Russia's private military force, Wagner, is withdrawing from areas around the eastern city of Bakhmut that Moscow claims to have captured earlier this month.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin earlier this week announced the pullout, saying Wagner would hand control of the ruined city over to the Russian military. Some were skeptical, however.

Prigozhin is known for making unverifiable, headline-grabbing statements on which he later backtracks. But the British Defense Ministry said in a series of tweets Saturday that Wagner fighters "have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions" around Bakhmut.

"The Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister also corroborated the rotation out of Wagner forces in the outskirts of the town," the ministry said.

Information for this article was contributed by Marc Santora and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times and by Susie Blann and Darlene Superville of The Associated Press.

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