Ukrainian forces continued their campaign to retake Russian-controlled areas in the southeast of the country on Sunday, and President Volodymyr Zelensky said his country’s forces had taken the initiative after slowing down earlier.

According to Russian reports, fierce fighting broke out in areas outside the eastern city of Bakhmut, which was captured by the Wagner Special Military Group in May after months of fighting.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said that the Chechen unit spread in the region.

Ukraine launched a counterattack, after supplying it with increasingly advanced Western weapons after more than 500 days of war.

The offensive has so far focused on capturing a group of villages in the southwest, and Ukrainian forces are trying to recover areas around Bakhmut.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hana Malyar, wrote on Telegram that heavy fighting had broken out in two districts in the southeast.

“We’re consolidating our gains in those areas,” she wrote.

Russian forces were defending Bakhmut, while Ukrainian forces had recorded progress on the southern side of the city.

The situation in northern Bakhmut remained unchanged, and Ukrainian forces remained engaged in heavy fighting west of Bakhmut and near Liman, to the north in the Donetsk region.

Zelensky was interviewed by ABC news ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Lithuania, where Kiev hopes to receive strong indications of future membership in the alliance as well as security guarantees.

Zelensky acknowledged that the progress was slower than he and the army generals wanted, but said it was Ukrainian forces that took the initiative.

“We all want to do it faster, because every day means new losses for the Ukrainians… We’re moving forward… We’re not stuck,” he said, noting that the army had overcome some stagnation in the previous months.

Attention has focused in recent days on the village of Klishchevka, which is located in the highlands south of Bakhmut.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had repulsed the Ukrainian advance near Bakhmut, where fighting became difficult not only because of the intensity of the fire and the daily battles, but also because of the terrain.

The line of contact separating the forces of the two countries is located between two hills.

The Russian forces once again bombed the Sumy region, located in northeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, according to the regional military administration.

The administration said on its channel on the Telegram platform that 11 explosions recorded during the day on Sunday.

In view of the continuous Russian bombing, the Ukrainian army called on the residents of the border areas in the Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine to flee at the end of last June.

On Monday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced a failed attempt by Ukrainian forces aimed at bombing Crimea and the Rostov and Kaluga regions with S200 anti-aircraft missiles.

“On July 9, the Kiev regime made an unsuccessful attempt to attack targets in Crimea and the Rostov and Kaluga regions with S200 anti-aircraft missiles, which were converted into an offensive version,” the Russian defense ministry’s statement said.

According to the testimony provided by the Chief of the General Staff of the Air Force, Viktor Avzalov, to the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, four missiles were destroyed.

The statement indicated that Russian air defense systems destroyed two Ukrainian S200 missiles, and the electronic warfare system intercepted, through a jamming process, two more missiles.

Ukraine has been fighting the Russian invasion for more than 16 months.

The Sumy region was largely under Russian control for several weeks at the start of the war.

Last May, Ukrainian-backed fighters advanced from the Sumy region into the neighboring Russian region of Belgorod and clashed with Russian security forces, and after a short time, they returned to the Ukrainian lands.

For his part, the Ukrainian president said in his interview with ABC News that Ukraine needs to obtain clear security guarantees at the NATO summit in Vilnius before joining the alliance.

“The Vilnius summit is very important, and if there is no unity on inviting Ukraine to join the alliance, what is important is that there be political will to find the appropriate wording and invite Ukraine”.

Zelensky continued, “It will be an important message to say that NATO isn’t afraid of Russia”.

Zelensky stressed that this is a very important point.

“Only under these circumstances will our meeting be useful, otherwise, it will be just another policy,” he said.

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