By Raf Sanchez, Anastasiia Parafeniuk and Bill O'Reilly - NBC News
The Ukrainian Armed Forces have launched their counteroffensive against Russia in its territories occupied by the regime of Vladimir Putin, a senior officer and a soldier near the war front told NBC News.
After months of preparation, a wave of attacks on Thursday focused on front lines in the country's southeast, in what appears to be a significant boost and a new phase in the war that may be key for Ukraine to persuade the United States and its allies to renew their support and military aid.
It also comes as Ukraine grapples with the catastrophic consequences of the destruction of a critical dam in the region.
[Satellite Images Reveal Dam Destruction]
Ukraine has repeatedly said it would not announce the start of the offensive. The sources spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations that are still ongoing but a Ukrainian military spokesman declined to comment.
Ukrainian tank in Donetsk on June 5. ANATOLII STEPANOV / AFP via Getty Images
Russian officials and military bloggers have been warning for days about the possible Ukrainian offensive, and on Thursday reported a sudden intensification of attacks in southern Zaporizhzhia. Russia spoke for the first time on Monday of an attempt by Ukraine to break its front in the southeast, saying it repelled it.
Ukrainian officials denied this, accusing Russia of lying, and insisted that day that the offensive was yet to begin.
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Zaporizhzhia, one of four regions partially occupied and illegally annexed by Russia, has long been seen as the main point of attack Ukraine would choose.
But Ukrainian forces appear to have been working to hide their intentions with attacks on all fronts.
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Britain's Ministry of Defence said Thursday that "heavy fighting continues along multiple sectors of the front." And in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said that "the enemy is actively on the defensive."
While what happens on the battlefield has been in the spotlight for months, the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam this week was a turning point in the conflict. The collapse forced thousands to evacuate as floodwaters swept through the southern war zone.
The destruction could disrupt Ukraine's plans on the battlefield and cause far-reaching damage to the population.