Ukraine plays down talk of Bakhmut gains being start of counteroffensive
By Dan Peleschuk
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukrainian forces have advanced by about 2 km around the eastern city of Bakhmut this week and have not given up any positions there in that time, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Friday.
But she appeared to play down suggestions that Ukraine had already started a much-anticipated counteroffensive, and urged Ukrainians to disregard what she described as Russian disinformation about the situation in and around Bakhmut.
Some Russian military bloggers reported on Thursday that Ukrainian troops had broken through parts of the front line. Moscow denied the reports and said the situation was under control after 10 months of fierce fighting for Bakhmut.
"How does the enemy cover the battles in Bakhmut? (It) praises itself, talks about supposed success and invents stories about our military command," Maliar wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
"At the same time, the enemy gives false information about the lack of weapons, which probably aims to justify the real situation."
Describing what she called "the real situation" over the past week, she said "the enemy failed to carry out its plans; the enemy suffered great losses of manpower; our defenders advanced 2 km (1.2 miles) in the Bakhmut sector; we did not lose a single position in Bakhmut this week."
Moscow sees Bakhmut as a stepping stone to attacking other Ukrainian cities. Kyiv has said that maintaining the defence of Bakhmut allows Ukraine's military to prepare an expected counteroffensive.
In a separate Telegram post, Maliar later said that Russian attacks were being met by defensive operations and counterattacks, suggesting such moves should not be considered part of any major Ukrainian counteroffensive.
"This situation has actually been going on in the east for several months," she wrote. "That's it! Nothing more is happening."
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview with European broadcasters published on Thursday that the counteroffensive had yet to start.
Reuters was unable to verify the situation on the battlefield.
(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)