'More alarming every hour': Russians admit Ukraine gains. Is counteroffensive underway?: Updates

The Ukrainian army claimed to be gaining ground Monday along a wide front in the Bakhmut area, the "epicenter" of hostilities, amid Russian claims that the long-awaited Ukraine counteroffensive may be underway.

"We are successful, we occupy the dominant heights" surrounding Bakhmut, Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar said on Telegram. "The enemy is on the defensive. He wants to hold his position."

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed Monday that Ukraine forces had begun a “large-scale offensive on five sectors of the front in the southern Donetsk area” − where Bakhmut is located − and said its troops fended off at least one attack.

Ukraine officials have said they won't formally announce the start of the counteroffensive, but acknowledged their forces were indeed increasing offensive operations and suggested some of the Russian proclamations were misinformation.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner mercenaries were credited with seizing Bakhmut after months of battle, had harsh words for Russian regular troops assigned to hold the area. He said a nearby settlement had fallen and troops were abandoning their posts.

Pro-Russia military blogger Semen Pegov, known as WarGonzo, wrote that "news from the frontline ... is getting more alarming every hour." Pegov added that "the Armed Forces of Ukraine, unlike yesterday, are operating much more harmoniously and organized."

Alexander Khodakovsky, deputy head of the Russian national guard in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, warned that "the enemy managed to put us in a difficult position."

A Ukrainian soldier covers his ears while firing a mortar at Russian positions on the front line near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on May 29.


◾ Vladimir Rogov, a Russian official in Ukraine’s partly occupied Zaporizhzhia province, said fighting resumed on its border with the eastern Donetsk region Monday after Russian defenses beat back a Ukrainian advance the previous day.

◾ Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk are two of the four provinces President Vladimir Putin claimed as Russian territory last fall, along with Luhansk and Kherson. Russia occupies large stretches of the provinces.

◾ Ukraine neutralized at least 90% of the 300-plus explosive drones Russia sent its way in May with cheap air defense weapons and electronic jamming, blunting the Kremlin's attempt to deplete Ukrainian stocks of more valuable missiles, the British Defense Ministry said.

◾ TV and radio broadcasts in several regions of Russia were hacked Monday, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. In one fictitious broadcast, a Putin impersonator said Ukrainian forces had invaded the Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk regions of Russia.

What would a Ukrainian counteroffensive look like?

Ukraine has revealed very little about how and when it intends to recapture territory claimed by the Russians since the war started, living by the motto that “plans love silence.”

Analysts generally believe Ukrainian military leaders aim to reach the Sea of Azov coast and cut off the so-called land corridor Russia has established in east and south Ukraine to the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014 and uses as a key military hub.

Retired British Gen. Richard Barrons told The Associated Press the counteroffensive would not be limited to military operations but would also include politics, diplomacy, information and cyber warfare. He noted the preliminary phase of the campaign has clearly begun, featuring Ukrainian attempts at finding weak spots in the Russian defenses.

“The focus will be on the tanks and artillery, and infantry – that’s the most visible tip of the spear,” said Barrons, former Commander of the U.K. Joint Forces.

Malyar, among the most vocal of the Ukrainian officials, said she drew no distinctions between phases of the war but acknowledged the country's forces “in some areas ... are shifting to offensive operations.”

Seven Russians sanctioned for attempting to destabilize Moldova

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Monday designated for sanctions seven members of a Russian intelligence-linked group for their role in Russia's destabilization campaign in Moldova. The sanctioned parties are part of a large global information operation connected to the Russian Federation that targets Ukraine, countries bordering Ukraine including Moldova, Balkan countries, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"These actors provoked, trained, and oversaw groups in democratic countries that conduct antigovernment protests, rallies, marches and demonstrations," the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine Russia war updates: Counteroffensive may be underway