President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was quoted on Wednesday as saying progress in Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces was “slower than desired”, but that Kyiv would not be pressured into speeding it up.
“Some people believe this is a Hollywood movie and expect results now. It’s not,” Britain’s BBC quoted him as saying in an interview to be broadcast later in the day. “What’s at stake is people’s lives.”
His adversary, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Moscow had observed a “lull” in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which began early this month. Although Ukraine still had some offensive potential, Kyiv understood it had “no chance”, Putin said in televised remarks.
Ukraine says it has reclaimed eight villages so far in its long-awaited counter-offensive, its first substantial gains on the battlefield for seven months.
But Ukrainian forces so far have yet to push their way to the main defensive lines that Russia has had months to prepare. Kyiv is believed to have set aside 12 brigades of thousands of troops each, most of which have yet to join the fight.
Reuters has visited some villages recaptured by Ukrainian forces and confirmed an advance of several kilometres. Moscow says it has been resisting the Ukrainian advances since early June.
Ukraine’s armed forces general staff said on Wednesday evening there had been 35 armed clashes in the main sectors of the front over the past 24 hours, without giving details. It said anti-aircraft units had downed 32 of 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones.
The report also noted enemy offensive action in the Lyman sector in Ukraine’s east, where officials say Russian forces have become more active. There was Russian shelling throughout the east and in Zaporizhzhia region.
The BBC quoted Zelenskyy as saying the military push was not going easily because 200,000 square km (77,220 square miles) of Ukrainian territory had been mined by Russian forces.
“Whatever some might want, including attempts to pressure us, with all due respect, we will advance on the battlefield the way we deem best,” he added.
After a flurry of early gains, Kyiv has claimed to have captured only one additional village over the past week, the hamlet of Pyatikhatky. Officials said on Wednesday forces in the south were mostly consolidating earlier gains, while troops in the east were holding off Russian attacks.
“They had partial success over the past day, they have consolidated at the boundaries that were reached and they have evened up the front line,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said.
Zelenskyy’s interview with Britain’s public broadcaster was timed to coincide with a conference in London where allies were due to pledge billions of dollars in economic and reconstruction aid.
Washington offered $1.3 billion. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Kyiv was hoping for almost $7 billion from the event.
The West has already given Ukraine tens of billions of dollars worth of military equipment, including hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles that form the core of the force it is set to unleash in its counteroffensive.
Some of Ukraine’s supporters worry that Kyiv will have to show impressive results on the battlefield in coming weeks or risk political support waning in the West.
Both sides have stepped up longer range attacks with missiles and drones in preparation for the fighting at the front. Russia said on Wednesday it had shot down drones that had reached the region surrounding Moscow. Kyiv never comments on reports of attacks inside Russia.
Elsewhere on the diplomatic stage, European Union governments agreed to an 11th package of sanctions against Russia, aimed at stopping other countries and companies from circumventing existing measures.