Kyiv did not confirm or deny the claims, made by officials in Moscow and the country’s influential military bloggers, but did caution against Russian misinformation.
The Russian defense ministry said in an overnight statement that Ukrainian ground forces had launched “a large-scale offensive” at five areas in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine late Sunday.
Ukraine used two brigades of its “strategic reserves” in the attack, with six mechanized and two tank battalions involved, the ministry said. It added that Ukraine had lost more than 250 troops, as well as 16 tanks and other equipment.
“The enemy’s goal was to break through Russia’s defenses in what it considered to be the most vulnerable area of the front,” the statement said. “The enemy was unsuccessful in achieving its goals.”
NBC News has not verified the claims.
Russia claimed a rare victory in the area last month after seizing the battered city of Bakhmut, but the front lines have otherwise remained largely static for months. It has long been speculated that Donetsk — which together with neighboring Luhansk forms the Donbas region annexed by the Kremlin — would be a target for the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
There was no immediate reaction from the Ukrainian government or top officials, but the strategic communications branch of the country’s armed forces cautioned against alleged Russian misinformation.
“To demoralize Ukrainians and mislead the community (including their own population), Russian propagandists will spread false information about the counteroffensive, its directions, and the losses of the Ukrainian army,” it said.
But while Russia’s defense ministry claimed to have repelled the Ukrainian attacks, some war correspondents and military bloggers — increasingly influential sources of information since the invasion — described new attacks Monday and suggested some may be succeeding.
Alexander Kots, military correspondent with the pro-Kremlin newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, reported “active battles” in two directions early Monday near the Donetsk town of Vuhledar as well as Bakhmut, which Russia recently claimed.
It appeared Kyiv had not yet moved its main forces into the battle, and could introduce them in a completely different area, Kots added.
Prominent Russian military blogger Semyon Pegov, who blogs under the name War Gonzo, said Ukrainian forces were advancing near the village of Novodonetske, north of Vuhledar, and managed to move more than a mile into Russian-controlled territory.
“There is a tough fight going on,” he said, adding that Ukraine was moving reserve units toward the village.
Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, said that fighting had resumed Monday after he reported an attempted Ukrainian breakthrough through near the regional border with Donetsk a day earlier.
Rogov said Ukraine had thrown “even greater forces into the attack than yesterday, approaching the attempt to break through on a larger scale and in an organized manner. There is a fight.”
For months, speculation has been building around when and where Kyiv would launch a broad counteroffensive. Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have been careful not to give out any details, but continued to claim a counteroffensive was coming in the near future.
Some military analysts told NBC News on Monday that it was too early to judge whether the attacks reported by the Russians were, in fact, the beginning of a major counteroffensive.
Whenever it does come, the Ukrainian thrust could prove a decisive moment in its bid to repel the Russians and show the world it has put to good use the billions of dollars in military aid supplied by its Western allies.
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