Kiev has not officially commented on the fighting
The attack for which the West has spent months training and supplying Ukraine's military is finally underway, multiple US outlets reported on Thursday. Kiev has not officially confirmed the start of the operation, preferring to describe the heavy fighting along the frontline as "probing" attacks.
NBC News reported that "a wave of attacks" along the southeastern front "appeared to represent a significant new push," citing one Ukrainian senior officer and one soldier near the front lines. They spoke on condition of anonymity, the outlet said, because the Ukrainian government is not commenting on the offensive.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu gave another in-person update on the fighting on Thursday. He said that Ukraine's 47th Mechanized Brigade, numbering up to 1,500 men and 150 armored vehicles, launched an attack on the Zaporozhye front. After a two-hour battle, the Ukrainians retreated, losing 350 men, 30 tanks and 11 armored personnel carriers, Shoigu said.
Moscow has also released drone footage showing what appears to be a Ukrainian armored column getting destroyed by artillery fire. Some of the tanks in the video have been identified as Western-supplied Leopards.
Shoigu made the first in-person battle report on Tuesday, saying that at least five Ukrainian brigades had launched attacks on multiple vectors. Russian forces stopped all attacks at the cost of 71 dead, 210 wounded, and the loss of 15 tanks and nine armored vehicles, he said. Ukrainian troops, meanwhile, lost 3,715 men, 52 tanks and 207 armored vehicles over the course of three days.
The government in Kiev accused Shoigu of spreading fake news and insisted that its grand offensive hadn't yet started. Citing US officials and Ukrainian sources, the New York Times described the fighting as "reconnaissance in force" and "probing attacks," with the actual offensive developing if and when there is a breach.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar did say attacks were taking place "in several directions" and that Kiev was "happy about every meter" its forces could take.
The US and its allies had spent months arming and training Ukrainian forces for the "spring counteroffensive," supplying Kiev with artillery, ammunition, armored fighting vehicles and main battle tanks, from the British Challenger II to several variants of the German-made Leopard.