KYIV — Ukrainian President Zelensky said he had “good news,” claiming the recapture of several settlements from Russia.
Rumors have been circulating for days about a possible breakthrough in the eastern region of Kharkiv, but no news from Ukrainian officials.
Zelensky declined to name the locations that had been taken over, saying “now is not the time to name them.”
Separately, US officials said Ukraine was making “slow but significant progress” against Russian forces.
Speaking in his nightly video address to Ukrainians, President Zelensky said there was “good news” regarding the supposed success of Ukrainian troops.
“I think every citizen is proud of our soldiers,” he said, naming specific military units and applauding their bravery in battle.
But he said: “Now is not the time to name the settlements to which the Ukrainian flag belongs.”
Ukraine has tightened its operational security in recent weeks, sharing few details of a widely expected counteroffensive in the east and south.
Ukrainian soldiers launched an offensive southeast of Kharkiv, towards the eastern region of Donetsk, over which Russia has maintained significant military control since the start of the war six months ago.
Some reports suggest that Ukrainian forces may be within tens of kilometers of the town of Izyum, an important link in the Russian military supply chain.
Speaking at an event in the United States, Colin Kahl – the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy – suggested that Ukrainian forces were performing better than Russian troops in some areas.
“It’s the beginning. I think the Ukrainians are making slow but significant progress. And we’ll see how things go,” he told Reuters news agency.
“But I certainly think things are better on the Ukrainian side at the moment in the south than on the Russian side.”
However, the situation remains tense.
In its overnight update, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Wednesday it had ‘repelled all Russian attacks’ in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions – but the two sides continued to exchange artillery fire and airstrikes, damaging a dozen different locations.
President Zelensky also said on Wednesday that Ukraine’s national budget next year would be that of a country at war – at more than a trillion hryvnia ($27bn; £23.5bn) spent on defence.
But he promised that key social provisions such as pensions would be maintained.
However, “all non-critical expenditure must be reduced as much as possible”, he warned – “everything that does not help defence, does not help the economic development of the country, the social and cultural offer of our people”.
Separately, US and UN observers have raised concerns about the plight of civilians in Ukraine as the war continues.
A senior UN human rights official said the organization was concerned about the displacement of people in Ukraine – and in particular the plight of children.
“There have been credible allegations of forcible transfers of unaccompanied children to Russian-occupied territory, or to the Russian Federation itself,” warned Ilze Brands Kehris, Under-Secretary General for Human Rights. man.
Her agency is concerned that Russia has created “a simplified procedure” to grant these children Russian citizenship and possibly have them adopted into Russian families, she said.
Such measures would violate the Geneva Convention, she added.
The United States, also on Wednesday, said it was concerned about a similar forced movement of Ukrainians – but adults.
The State Department has accused the Kremlin of having lists of Ukrainians to be forced into areas of the country under Russian control in what it calls “screening operations”.
“Filtering is a dehumanizing word, describing a massive campaign the Kremlin has launched to imprison, forcibly deport or make disappear Ukrainian citizens whom Moscow considers a potential threat,” spokesman Vedant Patel said.
“Victims of the filtration have no choice but to submit or face dire consequences.”
He described the system as an advanced, large-scale operation involving technologies such as facial recognition and phone tracking – and said the United States had evidence linking Kremlin officials to the project.
However, Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said Ukrainians traveling to Russia only went through a registration procedure. —BBC