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WASHINGTON: Ukrainian forces do not appear likely to reach and retake the Russian-occupied strategic southeastern city of Melitopol during their counteroffensive aimed at winning back territory from Moscow’s army, a US official said on Friday.

The Ukrainian military on Thursday said it had made gains on the southeastern front, pushing forward from a newly-liberated village, Urozhaine, in an attempted drive towards the Sea of Azov.

Melitopol, which had a pre-war population of about 150,000, has been under Russian control since March 2022 and has roads and railways used by Russian troops to transport supplies to areas they occupy.

Urozhaine in Donetsk region was the first village the Kyiv government said it had retaken since July 27, signaling the challenge it faces in advancing through heavily mined Russian defensive lines without powerful air support.

The US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, was citing an intelligence report on Melitopol but the prediction is largely in line with Washington’s view that the counteroffensive is going slower than expected.

The official added that despite the report and limited progress towards Melitopol, Washington believed it was still possible to change the gloomy outlook.

The assessment on Melitopol was first reported by the Washington Post.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday declined to comment but said there had been a number of analyses about the war in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022 and many of them had changed as it unfolded.

Russia controls nearly a fifth of Ukraine, including the peninsula of Crimea, most of Luhansk region and large tracts of the regions of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

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