By Dan Peleschuk
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine has made progress in its counteroffensive against Russian forces simply by proving it can push back a better-armed and numerically superior enemy, a senior Ukrainian official said on Tuesday.
Ukrainian troops have faced vast Russian minefields and trenches in the counteroffensive launched in early June, and a U.S. official said last week it looked unlikely that Kyiv would be able to recapture the strategic southern city of Melitopol.
But Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar brushed aside any suggestion that Kyiv's progress was too slow, and said Ukraine had effectively defied military doctrine by attacking an enemy that has a numerical advantage in manpower and weaponry.
"It's incorrect to measure this advance by metres or kilometres," Maliar told Reuters in an interview. "What's important is the very fact that despite everything, we're moving forward even though we have fewer people and fewer weapons."
She said she was unaware of any Western pressure being exerted on Ukraine's military to accelerate operations, and challenged the idea of a universally "correct" tempo.
Maliar highlighted the grinding attrition in the war, particularly in Ukraine's east, where she said Russian forces - who also enjoy air superiority - can fire 400,000-500,000 artillery shells each week or around 10 times more than Ukraine.
Acknowledging the vital role of Western military aid in the war, she added: "Needless to say, in order to reach parity with them we need this help."
Armed with Western tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, Ukraine has retaken a string of villages but no larger settlements. The onset of wetter and colder weather from October may complicate operations on the battlefield.
Maliar, a war crimes lawyer, has served as a deputy defence minister since 2021. Since Russia's full-scale invasion in February last year, she has regularly announced the latest battlefield developments.
Earlier on Tuesday, she said Ukrainian troops had gained a foothold in the southeastern village of Robotyne on the road to Tokmak, an occupied rail hub whose recapture would be a milestone in Kyiv's southward drive to reach the Sea of Azov. The next major settlement is the big regional city of Melitopol.
Germany's foreign minister said on Tuesday Ukraine needed more help penetrating Russian minefields and that Berlin was discussing with its partners how to fulfil Kyiv's requests for more equipment.
Maliar said the counteroffensive should not be compared with either Ukraine's rapid recapture of land in the eastern region of Kharkiv last year or its success in driving Russian troops out of the city of Kherson in the southwest, because each battlefield situation is unique.
"When Kherson was liberated, remember that the armed forces were creating the conditions in order to more or less swiftly liberate it later," she said.
(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk and Anna Dabrowska; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Timothy Heritage)