Obliterated wasteland where not even one building still stands is reclaimed by Ukraine as it reveals it has retaken less than a square mile around Bakhmut in a week
- Ukraine's military is painstakingly recovering territory around the embattled city of Bakhmut metre-by-metre
- But little more than rubble remains where apartment blocks, offices, town halls and factories once stood
The sheer devastation of the war in Ukraine has been laid bare in desolate new images of towns recently recaptured from Russian occupiers by Kyiv's forces.
The city of Bakhmut and its satellite towns in the eastern Donetsk region have long been the epicentre of some of the war's bloodiest conflicts, with months of attrition and World War One-style trench warfare resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides - and Russia's eventual capture of Bakhmut in May.
Now Ukraine's military is painstakingly recovering its territory around the former industrial city metre-by-metre, with Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar announcing over the weekend her troops had pushed Moscow's forces out of the villages of Andriivka and Klishchiivka.
Both cities lie on higher ground and their capture could set the stage for reasserting control over the pivotal city.
But where apartment blocks, offices, town halls and factories once stood, little more than piles of rubble, the charred remains of trees and twisted hunks of burnt-out armoured cars remain.
Debris litters the ground in Andriivka some six miles south of Bakhmut
An overturned, burnt-out vehicle is seen outside the rubble of a red brick house on the outskirts of Andriivka
A charred APC is seen at the frontline in Andriivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023
An assault unit commander from the 3rd Assault Brigade who goes by the call sign 'Fedia', runs to his position at the frontline in Andriivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023
The 3rd Assault Brigade announced Friday they had recaptured the war-ravaged settlement 6 miles south of Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut, in the country's embattled east
Assault unit commander from 3rd Assault Brigade who goes by the call sign 'Fedia' speaks with a Ukrainian servicemen in the frontline a few kilometres from Andriivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023
Besides the successful expulsion of Russian troops from Andriivka and Klishchiivka, Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister admitted her soldiers were only able to retake two square km - less than a mile - around Bakhmut in the past week
Kyiv's troops have liberated 51 square km (19 square miles) near Bakhmut since Ukraine's much-heralded counteroffensive began in late May, Maliar said.
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But besides their successful expulsion of Russian troops from Andriivka and Klishchiivka, the Deputy Defence Minister admitted her soldiers were only able to retake two square km - less than a mile - around Bakhmut in the past week.
Further south in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian troops continued to hold back a Russian offensive towards the towns of Avdiivka and Maryinka, Maliar said.
Ukrainian forces are trying to advance toward the Sea of Azov in a southern drive intended to split Russian forces retook 5.2 square km (two square miles) in the past week, said Maliar.
Overall, Ukraine regained more than 260 square km (100 square miles) in the south since late May, she said.
During its three-month-old counteroffensive, Ukraine has reported slow, steady progress against entrenched Russian positions, retaking a string of villages and advancing on the flanks of Bakhmut, but taking no major settlements.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials have dismissed Western critics who say the offensive is too slow and hampered by strategic errors.
Russian troops spent much of the early part of the year digging in and reinforcing defensive positions in the east of Ukraine in an attempt to lock down the territory already under their control rather than stretching their lines thin.
'The enemy is trying with all his might to regain lost positions,' Maliar said in a briefing Monday morning.
'Therefore, our fighters hold back the enemy's attacks there and are entrenched at the achieved frontiers.'
As Russian troops on the ground attempt to hold back the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Moscow continues to terrorise Ukrainian cities by air.
Russian forces meanwhile have pursued their aerial bombardment campaign, targeting Ukraine's southern regions and maritime export hubs in particular.
Ukraine said on Monday its air defence systems had downed a swarm of attack drones and nearly 20 cruise missiles in Russia's latest aerial barrage overnight.
'A total of 24 strike UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) were recorded around the Mykolaiv and Odesa regions. Eighteen attack drones were shot down by air defence units,' the air force said on social media.
It added that its forces had shot down all 17 cruise missiles fired by Russian forces overnight.
Kyiv has at the same time stepped up its aerial attacks on Russia. Moscow said it repelled Ukrainian drones over outer Moscow and two border regions - as well as over several parts of occupied Crimea.
Trees destroyed during battle, are seen at the frontline a few kilometres from Andriivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023
Ukrainian servicemen walk through trees at the frontline a few kilometers from Andriivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials have dismissed Western critics who say the Ukrainian counteroffensive is too slow and hampered by strategic errors
Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been targeted throughout the war but attacks there have intensified as Kyiv vows to recapture the Black Sea peninsula.
And since Ukraine launched its counteroffensive, Russia has weathered waves of drone attacks that have damaged buildings, including in the capital Moscow.
But Russian officials have downplayed their significance.
'Drones were intercepted over the western, southwestern, northwestern and eastern parts of the Crimean peninsula; Istra and Domodedovo districts of Moscow region, Belgorod and Voronezh regions,' the defence ministry said.
Kyiv announced the territorial gains as Beijing said China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, would begin a four-day visit to Russia for security talks on Monday.
China and Russia are strategic allies, with both countries frequently touting their 'no limits' partnership and economic and military cooperation.
China's foreign ministry said Wang would hold security consultations at the invitation of Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council.
The visit was due a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Russia following a rare six-day trip, which appeared to solidify his country's ties with President Vladimir Putin and fanned Western fears Pyongyang could provide Moscow with weapons.
A top United Nations expert meanwhile warned that respect for human rights inside Russia had substantially worsened since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
'The situation of human rights in the Russian Federation has significantly deteriorated since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022,' UN Special Rapporteur Mariana Katzarova said in her first report on Russia.