Russia says still advancing as Ukraine readies counter-attack

STORY: Video released on Tuesday purports to show British Challenger 2 main battle tanks... on the ground in Ukraine for the first time.

This footage from Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov shared on social media includes the cabinet official thanking the United Kingdom.

But these tanks will have to do more than trend on Twitter. Ukraine has begged and pleaded for months for advanced weaponry ahead of what is an expected counter-offensive against invading Russian forces occupying swaths of territory in the country's east.

The U.S. and Nato have promised tanks and artillery in hopes that Ukraine can repeat some of the successes it saw last year in repelling Russian attacks and retaking Russian-held-regions, but that offensive has yet to take shape.

Kyiv and Moscow have spent months locked in bitter combat over the now-shattered eastern city of Bakhmut, a battle both sides have described as a meat grinder, where the front line has barely moved.

A Moscow-installed leader in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday said Russian forces were making gains in Bakhmut.

But in a video released on Telegram, Ukrainian commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said his forces were inflicting heavy losses on Russian attackers in an effort to exhaust the invaders.

Heavy fighting has also moved to town of Avdiivka, a bit to the south, where British intelligence said a Russian tank division had suffered heavy losses.

Video released by Ukrainian police purported to show officers working to evacuate civilians as the front line inched closer.

But residents in nearby Semenivka told Reuters they had no plans to leave. Fifty-six-year-old Elena, who did not give a surname, said "there's no place to leave for. Where should we go, and how can I leave behind my home? That's why we're staying here."

This seventy-one-year-old said, "Our army is holding up, and so are we. We have hope. We hope and hope that the situation will calm down."

Both sides are signaling their readiness for even more brutal combat ahead. Moscow on Tuesday released footage of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspecting arms factories, showing munitions being readied for the front.

Russia and Ukraine are both reportedly expending artillery shells at a rate not seen since the Second World War. France's Defense Minister on Tuesday said it would double its supply of 155 mm shells to Ukraine, to about 2,000 per month.

As expectations of a new offensive build, these Ukrainian recruits this week practiced firing rifles and rocket-propelled grenades under the eye of a Swedish instructor, Magnus Ek.

"Many-many hundreds so far and well, I build from the basics. It's like you have to sense where the soldiers are because I train both new soldiers that are mobilized, that just got uniform and a gun, we start from day one and also experienced units. It can be mission-related training for some fighters that are pulled out, they need to train on something and they go back to the front line and do that."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday used the one-year anniversary of what he called the "decisive battles" to recapture territory here in the Sumy Region from Russian forces to rally his countrymen for the expected springtime counter-attack.

He noted the Russian border sat quite close, a border he said "no tyrant will ever manage to erase."

Ukrainian fighters here pushed back Russian attackers a year ago in an early victory for Kyiv following Moscow's invasion.

It remains to be seen whether an influx of western tanks, shells, and training will mean Ukraine's armed forces can do that, again.

Reuters / TWITTER @oleksiireznikov / Canada Defence Ministry / Norwegian Armed Forces / 93rd Mechanised Brigade 'Kholodny Yar' / TELEGRAM @OSIRSKIY / Donetsk Region Police / Russian Defence Ministry / Ukrainian Presidential Press Service