BLAHODATNE, Ukraine — After months of preparation and bolstered by hundreds of donated tanks, armored vehicles and howitzers, Ukraine has notched small successes in the first week and a half of a counteroffensive to drive Russian forces from southern Ukraine.
In fierce fighting on the plains, the military said it had broken through a first line of Russian defenses and reclaimed seven villages.
The fruits of their labor could be seen on a visit with the Ukrainian military to one of those villages, Blahodatne, on Thursday — as well as the daunting challenges that lie ahead.
Ukraine has yet to commit the bulk of its reserves, including troops trained in Europe over the winter and spring, and equipped with weaponry from NATO countries, meaning it can bring still more force to bear. But with each step forward, its soldiers become more vulnerable — removed from the safety of their own trenches, closer to Russian artillery, maneuvering through minefields and unprotected from airstrikes.
Ukraine is engaged in two main thrusts southward, where it has broken through most deeply in the string of small villages that includes Blahodatne, where the soldiers were diving for cover on Thursday.
For Ukrainian soldiers with the 68th Scout Brigade who entered the villages, the sweetness of liberating land was tempered by the panorama of ruin that greeted them and what came next: a relentless bombardment from Russian forces.
“They are attacking with rockets, howitzers, mortars, helicopters and drones,” Sgt. Serhiy Gubanov said in an interview while taking cover in a basement as explosions boomed outside.
“It’s the complete collection of intense experiences,” he said.
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Konstantinople, Ukraine.