KYIV (UKRAINE) - Ukraine said Sunday that its forces had retaken Klishchiivka, a tactically important town south of the key frontline city of Bakhmut, as it pursues a counter-attack against Russia's grinding offensive.
Battlefield victories are especially important for Ukraine as President Volodymyr Zelensky prepares his second wartime visit to Washington next week in a bid to rally support.
But the advances came as two senior western figures cautioned against hopes of a swift end to the conflict.
"Klishchiivka was cleared of Russians," Oleksandr Syrsky, commander of the Ukrainian military's ground forces, posted on social media.
Zelensky praised the soldiers fighting near Bakhmut and singled out those who had retaken Klishchiivka, saying "Well done!" in his evening address to the nation.
Zelensky also said that Kyiv was "preparing new defence solutions for Ukraine", saying that "air defence and artillery are the priority", without providing details.
Klishchiivka, which was home to several hundred people before Moscow launched its offensive in February 2022, was captured by Russian troops in January.
Ilya Yevlash, spokesman for Ukrainian troops in the east, said that control over Klishchiivka could help the Ukrainian army encircle Bakhmut, captured by Russian forces in May after one of the war's longest and bloodiest battles.
"We have now gained a staging ground, which will in the future allow us to continue to develop offensive actions and liberate our land from the occupiers," Yevlash said in a televised statement.
The capture of the village would allow Ukrainian forces to advance more easily towards Russian forces and deliver more accurate artillery strikes, he added.
- Words of caution --
The latest news from Kyiv came as the United States's highest-ranking military officer said Sunday that Ukraine's broader goal of ousting Russian forces from its territory faced a "very high bar".
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while the current counteroffensive by Ukraine was "slower than the planners had anticipated, it has been steady."
He dismissed commentary from some quarters that the offensive had failed, arguing that Ukraine has "a lot of combat power remaining. The Ukrainians are not a spent force".
However, he warned: "It'll take a considerable length of time to militarily eject all 200,000 or plus Russian troops out of Russian-occupied Ukraine. That's a very high bar. It's going to take a long time to do it."
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also warned there would be no swift end to the conflict, in an interview published Sunday.
"Most wars last longer than expected when they first begin," Stoltenberg told Germany's Funke media group.
"Therefore we must prepare ourselves for a long war in Ukraine," even if everyone is wishing for a swift peace.
The claimed recovery of Klishchiivka came after Ukraine's armed forces said Friday that the village of Andriivka, also located south of the eastern city of Bakhmut, had been retaken.
On Saturday, Russia denied its forces had been pushed out of the frontline village.
Kyiv began pushing back against Moscow's forces in the south and east of the country in June after building up Western weapons and recruiting assault battalions.
Ukrainian forces initially focussed on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut and have since been posting incremental gains.