Russian air forces and artillery weapons struck back against advancing Ukrainian troops on Tuesday, hammering them in the area of several southern villages that the Ukrainian Army had retaken over the past week in the opening phase of Kyiv’s counteroffensive.
The attack reduced one village to ruins and came on the same day that a Russian missile strike killed at least 11 people in Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, which lies about 100 miles from the eastern front line.
Thunderstorms had swept over southern Ukraine before the Russian attack on the villages, muddying terrain and complicating operations for both armies, which have been locked in fighting at multiple points as Ukrainian troops have tested Russian defenses along the front.
Conflicting claims made it difficult to assess the situation on the battlefield, but President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, speaking to Russian war correspondents and military bloggers, acknowledged that his forces had suffered some losses in June, including 54 tanks. He denied Ukraine’s assertions of progress on the battlefield, though, insisting that its military had lost hundreds more tanks and vehicles than Russia with no gains to speak of.
“The opponent has had no success in any area,” he said. “They have had heavy losses.”
Mr. Putin equivocated on the question of whether he might order another mobilization like the one last fall that brought some 300,000 men into duty and drove tens of thousands of others to flee. He said that he was aware of the hawkish calls for another major draft, but added that such a decision “depends on what we want” to do and that “there was no such need today.”
After claiming to recapture a series of farming villages over the weekend, Ukraine’s military announced only minimal gains on Tuesday, and the Russian attack on Ukraine’s vanguard suggested Kyiv’s troops faced a dangerous problem ahead. As they emerge from their trenches, military analysts say, they move out of the range of their own army’s air defenses and electronic jamming systems, leaving them vulnerable to Russian air attacks like those on Tuesday.
Shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, such as American-provided Stingers, can be quickly moved forward. But doing so with more sophisticated, vehicle-mounted systems could put them at risk from Russian artillery.
Ukraine has yet to commit the bulk of its forces, including those trained by Western allies, to any one place to drive a wedge through Russian-occupied land in the southeast.
But Russia’s defensive strategy of aerial counterstrikes could slow Ukraine’s campaign, giving Russian troops more time to lay down even more defenses. Ukrainian forces have already faced minefields, trenches, anti-tank ditches, air assaults and artillery fire, Hannah Malyar, a Ukrainian deputy defense minister, said on the Telegram messaging app on Tuesday.
“We have to be ready for our military to fight long and hard” to breach the defensive lines, Ivan Kyrychevsky, a military analyst at Defense Express, a Ukrainian analytical group, said on Facebook. Ukraine should also be prepared, he said, for Russia to “show as a strategic victory every tiny failure of our forces.”
Mr. Zelensky, in an evening address on Monday, said that the bad weather, which made muddy fields impassable for heavy armored vehicles, had hampered his military’s efforts. “The rain makes our task more difficult,” he said, adding that the fighting was “fierce” but that his troops were moving.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s general staff, Andriy Kovalev, said on television that Ukrainian forces had advanced about 500 to 1,000 yards in some locations in the south, but he did not specify where. Reuters journalists were able to reach a newly retaken village, Neskuchne in eastern Ukraine, confirming on Tuesday at least one point of movement on the front.
A Russian-appointed official in southern Ukraine, Vladimir Rogov, claimed on Telegram that Russian attack helicopters had targeted Ukrainian soldiers near the town of Velyka Novosilka, in the eastern Donetsk region, where Ukraine had begun attacking last week.
“Our night counterattacks began,” Mr. Rogov wrote, adding that the Russian military was flying sorties with two models of attack helicopters. Both armies were firing artillery in the area, he added.
Pro-war Russian bloggers, who are often affiliated with the military or paramilitary groups, have also described Russian counterattacks, but said the state of the fighting was uncertain.
“In reports from the field we have one piece of information, and then another,” one blogger, who goes by the name Special Forces Archangel, wrote about the fighting near Velyka Novosilka.
Ukraine appears to have lost at least some of the Western-made weapons delivered in recent months. Several American-made Bradley fighting vehicles were abandoned by Ukrainian troops or destroyed in the early days of the counteroffensive, based on videos and photographs posted by pro-war Russian bloggers and verified by The New York Times.
Russia’s Defense Ministry quickly put similar imagery to use in propaganda, publishing a video purporting to show its forces capturing abandoned Bradleys and German-made Leopard tanks in Zaporizhzhia, saying, “Now these are our trophies.” The Russian claim could not be independently verified.
But whatever Ukraine’s early losses, the United States and its European backers have continued to commit aid, including a new military package announced on Tuesday by the Biden administration. The latest package, worth $325 million, includes a total of about two dozen Bradley and Stryker armored fighting vehicles, as well as more rockets for the long-rage HIMARS missile system.
The United States has already sent 109 Bradleys and 90 Strykers to Ukraine, according to the Defense Department, and has committed $40 billion overall in arms, ammunition and equipment since Russia’s invasion last year. Some European countries have also sent dozens of armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine in the past months.
Alongside its battlefield assaults, Russia has kept up its long-range campaign of attacking Ukrainian cities, hitting the president’s hometown, in central Ukraine. Russian missiles hit a warehouse and an apartment building in the city, which was already grappling with the aftermath of the Kakhovka dam disaster, and the authorities said that 28 people had been injured in addition to the 11 killed.
Ukraine’s military has become skilled at defending itself from Russian air attacks, but debris from some intercepted missiles and drones has killed or injured people across the country since the beginning of May.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on its Facebook page that air defenses had destroyed 10 of 14 cruise missiles and shot down one of four Iranian-made Shahed drones used in Russia’s overnight strike. The attack was part of Russian efforts to “exhaust” Ukraine’s air defenses, said Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force.
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Eric Schmitt from Washington and Andrés R. Martínez from Seoul.