Ukrainian tanks appeared to have broken through Russia’s final line of defence in western Zaporizhzhia, signalling a major breakthrough for Kyiv’s counteroffensive.
A report published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Ukrainian armoured vehicles were behind the Russian defence line – known as the Surovikin line – for the first time, and involved in fighting near the village of Verbove in the Zaporizhzhia region.
“Ukrainian forces have brought heavy equipment beyond the anti-vehicle ditch and the dragons’ teeth for the first time,” said George Barros, an analyst for ISW, on X, formerly known as Twitter. He added: “Forces have been widening their breach of the lines for the past several weeks and may be preparing for a new push.”
The reported breakthrough comes as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky looked to Canadian’s prime minister Justin Trudeau for further military support, after securing a $325m defence package from US President Joe Biden on Thursday.
Some 577 days into the conflict, experts see the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive to liberate Zaporizhzhia as the key to breaking Russia’s backbone, and potentially winning the war.
If Ukrainian forces maintain and widen the opening within the fortified Surovikin line, it could open the way for its Western tanks and reserve troops to reach the Sea of Azov and effectively cut Russian forces in half.
For months, Ukraine’s progress in the region has struggled against the 81-mile line heavily fortified with defensive weapons, including tank traps, minefields and huge concrete blocks designed to stop armoured vehicles.
The ISW report’s claims of the armoured vehicle advancement are yet to be confirmed and the Russian-appointed officials in Zaporizhzhia have provided a different picture from the ground.
Vladimir Rogov, from the Russian-installed Zaporizhzhia military-civilian administration, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that Ukrainian soldiers were forced to retreat after a failed assault on the line. “Our attack drones have hit an assault group of Ukrainian militants who tried to break through to our positions on the Orikhiv direction between the villages of Robotyne and Verbove,” he said.
Breaking the Surovikin line could have a big impact on the rest of the war, according to military experts such as Sean Bell. He told Sky News this week: “You are never sure what will be the chink that will break the dam, you will never know until the crack emerges and the floodgates open.
“The question is whether the Ukrainians then have the stamina and the morale and the equipment to take advantage of it.”
The battle to win back territory in the south has been costly for Ukraine over the past few months. There has, however, been progress. Earlier this month, forces captured the village of Robotyne. Since then, Kyiv has focused on breaching and opening a gap in the Surovikin line by moving toward the village of Verbove.
This latest reported advancement will be a boost for Mr Zelensky, who on Wednesday accused Russia of weaponising everything from food to energy during an address to the UN General Assembly.
Mr Zelensky told world leaders: “While Russia is pushing the world to the final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after the Russian aggression, no one in the world will dare to attack any nation.”
Visiting President Joe Biden in Washington on Thursday, Zelensky secured a fresh $325m aid package that will include air defence systems and other weaponry to help Kyiv face a tough winter. And on Friday, he was meeting Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau as he rallied for further support to Ukrainian war efforts.