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Ukrainian forces have pushed into the main line of Russian defenses, where they face a maelstrom of threats

Ukraine troops machine gun Zaporizhzhia
Ukrainian troops train with heavy weapons near the frontline in Zaporizhzhia on April 20, 2023.Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • Ukrainian forces have pushed into the main line of Russian defenses south of Zaporizhzhia.

  • They face fierce resistance and extensive networks of mines, trenches, and anti-tank obstacles.

  • The tactical gains mark a big step in Ukraine's slow-moving counteroffensive.

Ukrainian forces appear to have pushed into the main Russian defensive line. It's been a hard fight to get there, and more tough fighting lies ahead.

Ukraine launched its counteroffensive operations roughly three months ago, and efforts to break through Russian defenses and regain occupied territory have been relatively slow. But recent forward movement in the country's southeast near Zaporizhzhia is sparking cautious optimism that more progress is on its way.

On Monday, Ukraine's defense minister Oleksii Reznikov said that Ukraine's forces "broke the first line," adding that they are expanding their foothold.

The next day, geolocated footage showed that Ukrainian infantry had advanced to the northwest of Verbove, a small village east of newly liberated Robotyne and southeast of Zaporizhia on the Dnipro River. OSINT analysts then noted Wednesday that Ukraine had pushed into the main defensive line.

While it's still somewhat unclear what Ukraine controls, the geolocated footage seems to show "Russian control over the outskirts of the settlement is degraded," according to an update from the Institute for the Study of War. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said troops had also advanced south of Robotyne.

In both cases, Ukraine faces tough defenses as they attempt to push forward into the main line.

Extensive minefields covered by artillery and aviation have plagued the counteroffensive, at times hindering operations with Western-provided assets like Leopard tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles and forcing soldiers to move forward on foot.

These will continue to be a challenge as Ukraine advances, as will trenches, traps, and anti-vehicle barriers.

As troops attempt to break through defensive lines near Verbove — which, if they're successful, could be a big win and propel further movement in the counteroffensive — they've found that Russian soldiers are exceptionally well dug in. In some trenches, Ukrainian soldiers found the Russians actually put down carpet and decorated the walls with pictures, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Beyond these daunting challenges, Russian artillery continues to pound away at Ukrainian positions, preventing movement and giving troops little downtime to regroup or advance. Unmanned aerial vehicles constantly swarm above, and one-way attack drones threaten to knock out vehicles and kill infantry. These dangerous elements are a new and terrifying addition to the battlefield amid the more traditional threats.

If Ukraine is able to launch a full-scale breach of the Russian lines near Verbove, it could give Kyiv's forces the critical momentum they need regain larger swaths of territory in the south, but it's unclear if or when it can achieve that kind of major breakthrough. For now, Ukraine will have to take the small wins and continue to pressure Russian defenses, which remain formidable.

Read the original article on Business Insider