The commander of Ukrainian ground forces said on Monday that they had “breached” Russian defences near the eastern town of Bakhmut which has seen the heaviest fighting of Vladimir Putin’s war.
General Oleksandr Syrskyi hailed the recapture of the eastern villages of Andriivka and Klishchiivka near Bakhmut.
"These settlements, at first glance small, were important elements in the enemy's defensive line which stretched from Bakhmut to Horlivka," he said on the Telegram messaging app, referring to a town about 40 km (25 miles) from Bakhmut.
"As a result of our troops' successful actions, the enemy's defensive line - which it tried to close by throwing all available reserves into battle - was breached."
Gen Syrskyi said Russian troops were still trying to regain the positions they had lost in the Bakhmut sector, and that fighting there was heavy.
Earlier, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky paid tribute to his forces saying they are “our warriors, our heroes… I am proud of every one” as he hailed the apparent progress in the country’s counter-offensive.
In an address last night he confirmed troops had taken back Klishchiivka, which is in an area that has seen intense fighting in recent weeks.
Mr Zelensky said: “I would like to particularly commend the soldiers who, step by step, are returning to Ukraine what belongs to it, namely in the area of Bakhmut.”
Kyiv said its forces had retaken two square km (0.77 square miles) of land in the past week around the shattered eastern town of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian troops in May after months of brutal fighting.
It comes as British defence chiefs said Vladimir Putin’s generals were throwing elite airborne troops onto the front line as “line infantry to augment over-stretched ground forces”.
Russian commanders are believed to be adopting the tactic in an attempt to stop a major Ukrainian breakthrough in the south of the country. Ukraine said it downed 18 Russian drones and 17 cruise missiles attacking its territory overnight.
Russia launched 24 drones at the southern regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv, Kyiv’s air force said in a post on Telegram.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un made his way home after a nearly week-long visit to Russia. The North Korean leader ended his defence-focused trip by watching a performing walrus show at the Primorsky aquarium.
Surrounded by military uniform-clad officials the dictator was pictured applauding the giant sea creature as it clapped back at him.