Ukraine says it retakes more ground as Zelenskiy visits front lines

FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian soldier shoots from his position, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine in a location given as near Bakhmut

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine said on Monday its troops had regained more territory on the eastern front and were advancing south in their counteroffensive against Russian forces while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited two front-line areas.

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv's forces had retaken about 3 square km (1.16 square miles) of land in the past week around the eastern city of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian troops in May after months of heavy fighting.

She also reported unspecified "success" in the direction of the villages Novodanylivka and Novoprokopivka in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia, but gave no details.

Ukraine has now taken back about 47 square km of territory around Bakhmut since starting its counteroffensive in early June, Maliar wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Reuters was not able to verify the reports and Russia has not confirmed the Ukrainian advances. Both sides have counted gains of tiny villages or pockets land as recent successes.

Videos posted on the Ukrainian presidential website on Monday showed Zelenskiy visiting troops in the eastern Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, and in Zaporizhzhia region, where Kyiv's forces are trying to push southward to the Sea of Azov.

Zelenskiy was shown presenting medals to soldiers at a number of sites and offering thanks to medics at a field hospital on the southern front.

In his nightly address, delivered from a train, the president said the soldiers' feedback on the course of the conflict would be taken seriously.

"Everything that our fighters talked about will be put to participants in meetings of the command, especially regarding electronic warfare. Guys, we heard you clearly", he said.

Kyiv officials have bristled at criticism in Western media reports that the counteroffensive has been too slow and hindered by poor tactics -- particularly positioning troops in too many locations.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said last week that critics should "shut up".

Kyiv has retaken a number of villages and settlements in its three-month-old offensive but its soldiers have been hampered by vast Russian minefields and trenches.

Maliar said last week that Ukrainian troops had broken through the first line of Russian defences, and Ukraine's military expects now to advance more rapidly.

Moscow has continued to carry out air strikes on Ukrainian targets including port infrastructure, and has reported drone attacks on Russian territory.

A Russian Defence Ministry account on Telegram on Monday quoted an officer with the code name Hedgehog as saying: "The enemy is attacking in a strong and serious fashion, but we are standing firm. We will not let them through."

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Ron Popeski and Cynthia Osterman)