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Ukraine's long-awaited military offensive against Russia has begun

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has given just a little information about his country's military offensive.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russian defenders are also talking, so we have an early assessment of the Ukrainian move. For months now, Ukraine has gathered troops and supplies while promoting the idea that they can push back Russian invaders.

INSKEEP: So what are they doing? NPR's Greg Myre has been gathering information from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Hey there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Starting with what the Ukrainians are saying or not saying, what do you hear?

MYRE: Yeah. Steve, for a war that's been so public and so well-documented, it's pretty strange to see this pivotal event take place with limited visibility. Now, President Zelenskyy did come out and acknowledge the offensive had been launched. He did this at a press conference Saturday with Canada's visiting prime minister, Justin Trudeau. But Zelenskyy really didn't offer details. He only said, quote, "I'm in daily contact with our commanders. Everyone is positive. So pass it on to Putin," in, of course, a reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MYRE: What we can decipher is that Ukraine is attacking in three specific areas or lanes in the east and southeast. And, in the middle lane, if you will, Ukraine says it's liberated four small villages. And the best evidence we have is Ukrainian soldiers posting videos raising the blue and yellow flag there.

INSKEEP: What do those data points and claims tell you about the broader offensive?

MYRE: Well, to be sure, this is the very first salvo of what's expected to be the biggest battle of the war, one likely to play out for much of this summer, if not beyond. And it's shaping up the way many predicted. Looks like Ukraine wants to drive to the southeast coast. This would cut the Russian forces in half - one group to the east, one to the south - and leave the Russians much more vulnerable. Ukraine thinks they can do this because they have brigades that have been freshly trained in Europe, and they're going into battle with these newly acquired NATO weapons, Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the U.S., Leopard tanks from Germany, missiles from Britain and an assortment of other upgraded weapons.

INSKEEP: Well, how do Russians talk about this Ukrainian offensive?

MYRE: Well, Putin says the offensive is already failing, though the consensus among military analysts is it's just way too early to be making any judgments. However, the Russians did expect the Ukrainians to attack in the southeast, and they've been digging in with minefields, extensive trench networks for their troops, concrete barriers in the places Ukraine is likely to advance. Russia's defense ministry put out a photo showing about a dozen of these new Ukrainian vehicles, these Western tanks and armored troop carriers that were clustered together after they'd been damaged and then abandoned by the Ukrainians. So this is just one snapshot, but it shows Ukraine will have a tough time surprising the Russians. And a lot of these battles will be fought on flat farmland where the attacking forces will be very much exposed.

INSKEEP: Analysts, at least some of them, speculated that Russia may have destroyed a dam the other day, partly to make it more difficult for Ukraine to advance in some areas. What is the situation now in the areas that were flooded?

MYRE: Yeah. The water is receding around the southern city of Kherson, but the damage is extensive, and the recovery will be long. Now, the two countries are blaming each other without proof, but the circumstantial evidence does point towards Russia. And Ukraine says Russia is using this flooded areas to move troops out of the south, eastward, where they can reinforce the Russian troops that are defending against the main part of Ukraine's offensive.

INSKEEP: Ah, they feel that the flood - supposedly feel that the flood is itself a defensive wall, which makes it easier to move troops elsewhere. Greg, thanks so much.

MYRE: Sure thing, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.