Ukrainian military forces have launched a surprise counterattack in the north-east Kharkiv region, stretching Russian forces who are also trying to hold off Ukrainian attacks in the south.
An official representing the Russian-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had “encircled” Balakliia, an eastern town of 27,000 people situated between Kharkiv and Russian-occupied Izium.
“Today, the Ukrainian armed forces, after prolonged artillery preparation … began an attack on Balakliia,” Daniil Bezsonov said on Telegram.
“At this time, Balakliia is in operative encirclement and within the firing range of Ukrainian artillery. All approaches are cut off by fire,” he said, adding that Russian forces in the strategically important town of Izium would come under threat if the Ukrainian offensive was successful.
Footage posted to social showed what appeared to be a Ukrainian soldier posing in front of an entrance sign for Balakliia.
Analysts have said that the initial target of the offensive could be the city of Kupyansk, an essential road hub for Russian supplies heading south from the border into eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has remained guarded about the military counter-offensive in the east while Ukraine’s military has yet to comment on the alleged new battle plan.
Zelenskiy reported “good news” from the Kharkiv region east of Kyiv, but provided no specific details saying that “now is not the right time to name those settlements where the Ukrainian flag has returned”.