Ukraine's Zelenskiy notes advances in south, movement in east

Aftermath of recent shelling in Donetsk

(Reuters) -President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday that Ukrainian troops pressing a counter offensive against Russian occupying forces had advanced on the southern front in the past week while there had also been movement near Bakhmut in the east.

Zelenskiy's latest comments on the state of the three-month-old counter offensive appeared to confirm assessments by other officials of gains, however modest, in the east and south.

"Over the past seven days we have made an advance in the Tavria (southern) sector," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. "There is movement in the Bakhmut sector. Yes, there is movement."

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were holding their ground on other fronts in the east -- Avdiivka and Maryinka near the focus of Russia's main attacks, and Lyman and Kupiansk, also subject to Russian attempts to advance further north.

Near Avdiivka, the head of the local military administration said Ukrainian troops took advantage of Russian forces focusing on one sector to advance and capture part of the village of Opytne south of the city.

"In my opinion, this is very significant," Vitaliy Barabash told national television. "To be frank, the enemy overlooked this southern direction a bit."

Barabash called the advance a "thunderous assault operation" and said fighting was underway in the settlement.

Avdiivka, site of a major coking plant, has been under near-constant Russian attack for many months.

The General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces reported successes near Bakhmut -- theatre of nearly a year of pitched battles until it was captured by Russian troops in May.

In its evening report, the General Staff reported "partial success as a result of assault operations" near Klishchiivka, a village on heights south of Bakhmut -- seen as critical to recapturing the town.

The report also described a measure of success near Robotyne -- a settlement Ukraine captured late last month -- as part of its drive southward through Russian-held areas to the Sea of Azov.

Zelenskiy and other officials have said the counter offensive requires time, and they have dismissed criticism in the Western media that it is proceeding too slowly because of tactical errors, like placing troops in the wrong locations.

In an interview with The Economist published on Sunday, Zelenskiy said making steady progress was essential to maintaining morale.

"Now we have movement. It’s important," the publication quoted him as saying.

He suggested a big breakthrough could lie ahead.

"If we push them from the south, they will run," he was quoted as saying.

(Reporting by Nick Starkov and Ron Popeski; Editing by Leslie Adler)