Ukrainian forces are making a major effort to punch through Russian defensive lines in south-east Ukraine for a second day, Moscow officials have claimed.
Kyiv authorities did not confirm the attacks and suggested the claim was a Russian misinformation ruse.
Vladimir Rogov, a Moscow-installed official in south-east Ukraine’s partly occupied Zaporizhzhia province, said fighting resumed there early on Monday after Russian defences beat back a Ukrainian advance the previous day.
Mr Rogov claimed that “the enemy threw an even bigger force into the attack than yesterday”. The new attempt to break through the front line was “more large-scale and organised,” he said, adding: “A battle is under way.”
His comments came after Moscow also claimed to have thwarted large Ukrainian attacks in eastern Donetsk, another of the four regions that President Vladimir Putin claimed as Russian territory last autumn and which it partially controls.
Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed it had pushed back a “large-scale” assault on Sunday at five points in Donetsk province.
The claims could not be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials did not confirm any assaults, but the reports fuelled speculation that a major Ukrainian ground operation could be under way as part of an anticipated counter-offensive.
A video published by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry showed soldiers putting a finger to their lips in a sign to keep quiet. “Plans love silence,” it said on the screen. “There will be no announcement of the start.”
The Centre for Strategic Communications of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Telegram that Russian forces were “stepping up their information and psychological operations”.
“In order to demoralise Ukrainians and mislead the community (including their own population), Russian propagandists will spread false information about the counter-offensive, its directions and the losses of the Ukrainian army. Even if there is no counter-offensive,” a statement on Telegram read.
Ukrainian officials have kept Russia guessing about when and where it might launch a counter-offensive, or even whether it had already started.
A possible counter-offensive, using advanced weapons supplied by Western allies, could provide a major morale boost for Ukrainians 15 months after Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Recent military activity, including drone attacks on Moscow, cross-border raids into Russia and sabotage and drone attacks on infrastructure behind Russian lines, has unnerved Russians. Analysts say those actions may represent the start of the counter-offensive.
Driving out the Kremlin’s forces is a daunting challenge. Russia has built extensive defensive lines, including trenches, minefields and anti-tank defences. The front line stretches for 684 miles.
Ukraine could launch simultaneous pushes in different areas, analysts say.
Michael Clark, the former head of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said the “increased tempo” of activity in recent weeks likely marked the start of the counter-offensive and that June is likely to see the start of Ukraine’s ground operation.
“There’s something going on,” he told the BBC.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed that 250 Ukrainian personnel were killed in the fighting in Donetsk province, and 16 Ukrainian tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armoured combat vehicles were destroyed.
“The enemy’s goal was to break through our defences in the most vulnerable, in its opinion, sector of the front,” Mr Konashenkov said. “The enemy did not achieve its tasks. It had no success.”