Ukraine has deepened a counteroffensive in the south of the country in the 23rd week of the war, striking Russian garrisons and ammunition stockpiles, forcing Russia to bring in reinforcements and weakening other fronts as a result. Ukraine also scored a diplomatic victory: Russia has agreed to lift its blockade of Black Sea ports to allow Ukrainian grain exports, which Ukraine estimates will bring in $10bn in much-needed revenue. Ukraine likely lost territory on its eastern front, including a key defensive position near Donetsk city; while an explosion in a Russian prisoner of war camp in occupied Donetsk killed an estimated 50 Ukrainian soldiers, in what Ukraine describes as a war crime. Even before August 2, Ukraine claimed to have liberated 46 settlements in southern Kherson province and it says the number now liberated has risen again over the past week. Britain's defence ministry said the Kherson counteroffensive was "gathering momentum" after Ukrainian-operated HIMARS rocket artillery systems struck three Russian-controlled resupply bridges on the Dnieper river between July 20 and 27.
The M142 HIMARS, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems supplied to Ukraine by the United States, have become a symbol of Russian vulnerability. In the occupied southern Kherson oblast, posters appeared in July featuring a picture of a HIMARS system and words threatening retribution on the Russians for "looting, killing, rape, destruction". Now, the Eastern European countries most worried about a future Russian attack are arming themselves. Poland and the Baltic States have drawn the lesson that they are among the most effective weapons in stopping the Russian advance in Ukraine, and are ordering hundreds of launch systems at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Polish defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced on May 26 that he had requested 500 HIMARS launchers plus ammunition – an enormous number which he said would involve extensive co-production.
Russia appeared to expand its territorial ambitions in the 21st week of its war on Ukraine, as it resumed the offensive in the eastern Donetsk region and received some rare international support for what it calls a "special military operation". In an interview published by Russian state news agency Ria Novosti on Wednesday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia had departed from its shrunken official goal of occupying the two eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, which together comprise the Donbas region. "It is not only about the DNR and LNR," said Lavrov, referring to the regions by the acronyms of their self-proclaimed people's republics, "but also the Kherson region, the Zaporizhia region, and also other territories," he said. After Russian forces withdrew from areas around Kyiv on March 25, Lavrov had said that the "special military operation" in Ukraine was over and Russia would focus on the two eastern regions. But Russian forces have continued to occupy parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions in southern Ukraine, which they seized early in the war, and escalate the "Russification" of the regions amid fears that Moscow is planning for annexation.
Kyiv says Russia has begun to redeploy troops to Ukraine's southern regions of Kherson, Melitopol and Zaporizhia, as Ukraine appeared to launch a long-awaited counteroffensive to retake them in the 22nd week of the war. If confirmed, such a redeployment would suggest Russia was on the defensive five months after losing a fight for Kyiv and focusing its military aims on the eastern oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk. It has not yet succeeded in taking the two, which together comprise the Donbas. Russian forces are trying to close in on Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in the heart of Donetsk. Wagner Group mercenaries appeared to have taken the Vuhlehirsk power station – Russia's first significant prize in the Donbas in weeks – but Russian forces have been largely static since they forced most Ukrainian defenders out of the city of Lysychansk on July 2, despite the fact that an operational pause concluded on July 16.
In Ukraine's eastern Donetsk province, Russian forces focus on attacking Siversk and Bakhmut. Ukrainian general staff report unsuccessful Russian attempts to attack Verkhnokamyanske, east of Siversk. The general staff also say Ukrainian forces repelled Russian efforts to advance on Bakhmut in Soledar, Semihirya and Berestove. Ukrainian forces damage the Antonivka vehicle and rail bridges using HIMARS rocket artillery, rendering them unusable for heavy military transport. This helps cut off forward Russian positions in Kherson, in Ukraine's south.