Destroyed Russian armoured vehicles on display in the southern Ukrainian town of Kryvyi Rig / © AFP
Ukraine said on Monday its forces had recaptured small clutches of land from Russian forces along the southern front and near Bakhmut, regions where Kyiv's troops have focused their slow-moving counter-offensive.
Kyiv launched its bid to wrest back territory controlled by Moscow in June, after stockpiling Western-supplied weapons and recruiting assault battalions.
Its efforts have focused on the war-battered town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, as well as several points along the frontline in the south, towards Crimea.
"Two square kilometres (0.77 square miles) were liberated in the Bakhmut sector," Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said on state media.
Her announcement came one day after Kyiv said its forces had retaken Klishchiivka, a village south of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian forces in May after one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war.
Malyar also said Ukrainian forces had clawed back 5.2 square kilometres in the south, where its forces are working to push deeper at two points along the front.
Ukraine: positions of military forces / © AFP
But Ukraine's progress against entrenched Russian positions has been limited since June, spurring debate among Kyiv's Western allies over its military strategy.
Russian forces meanwhile have pursued their aerial bombardment campaign, targeting Ukraine's southern regions and maritime export hubs in particular.
Ukraine said on Monday its air defence systems had downed a swarm of attack drones and nearly 20 cruise missiles in Russia's latest aerial barrage overnight.
"A total of 24 strike UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) were recorded around the Mykolaiv and Odesa regions. Eighteen attack drones were shot down by air defence units," the air force said on social media.
- 'Significantly deteriorated' -
It added that its forces had shot down all 17 cruise missiles fired by Russian forces overnight.
Kyiv has at the same time stepped up its aerial attacks on Russia. Moscow said it repelled Ukrainian drones over outer Moscow and two border regions -- as well as over several parts of occupied Crimea.
Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been targeted throughout the war but attacks there have intensified as Kyiv vows to recapture the Black Sea peninsula.
And since Ukraine launched its counter-offensive, Russia has weathered waves of drone attacks that have damaged buildings, including in the capital Moscow.
But Russian officials have downplayed their significance.
"Drones were intercepted over the western, southwestern, northwestern and eastern parts of the Crimean peninsula; Istra and Domodedovo districts of Moscow region, Belgorod and Voronezh regions," the defence ministry said.
Kyiv announced the territorial gains as Beijing said China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, would begin a four-day visit to Russia for security talks on Monday.
China and Russia are strategic allies, with both countries frequently touting their "no limits" partnership and economic and military cooperation.
China's foreign ministry said Wang would hold security consultations at the invitation of Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council.
The visit was due a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Russia following a rare six-day trip, which appeared to solidify his country's ties with President Vladimir Putin and fanned Western fears Pyongyang could provide Moscow with weapons.
A top United Nations expert meanwhile warned that respect for human rights inside Russia had substantially worsened since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
"The situation of human rights in the Russian Federation has significantly deteriorated since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022," UN Special Rapporteur Mariana Katzarova said in her first report on Russia.
Russia has criminalised criticism of the military, and law enforcement officials have detained thousands for protesting or speaking out against the invasion.