PHOTO: Ukrainian forces patrol after the Ukrainian army took control of some of the villages in Kharkiv, Ukraine on September 09, 2022. Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
UKRAINE - A Ukrainian special forces official said the country's much-anticipated southern offensive was actually a disinformation campaign to distract Russia from its real offensive where its regaining territory in Kharkiv.
"[It] was a big special disinformation operation," Taras Berezovets, former national security adviser and now press officer for the Bohun brigade of Ukraine's special forces, told The Guardian.
Ukraine has made rapid gains since it began its surprise offensive in the north-eastern Kharkiv region this week, which has been occupied by Russian forces for months.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said forces had retaken over 1,158 square miles of territory, meaning it has tripled the retaken area in a little over 48 hours, the BBC reported.
Insider cannot independently verify Ukraine's claims.
But the UK Ministry of Defence said on Sunday that Ukraine has "continued to make significant gains in the Kharkiv region" and that Russia had "likely withdrawn units from the area," though Russia is still fighting in some of the region's cities.
And Russia's state media has been conveying unusually pessimistic messages about the counteroffensive.
Russian forces retreated from the region on Saturday, Russia's Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
Ukraine announced it had begun its long-awaited offensive to retake Kherson in the south on August 29.
While small gains were made, soldiers on the ground said they saw little evidence of the major counter-offensive that was being publicly touted, The Guardian noted last month.
Now, Ukraine's special forces says southern offensive were a planned distraction.
Berezovets told The Guardian that the plan succeeded in causing Russia to move equipment and personnel to the southern front, including some from the Kharkiv region.
"Meanwhile [our] guys in Kharkiv were given the best of western weapons, mostly American," he told the paper.
In order to ensure Russia would not be tipped off, Ukrainian forces rooted out informants in Ukrainian-controlled parts of Kharkiv.
"The [informants] were almost completely cleaned up. They mostly comprised normal Ukrainian civilians but there were some Russian agents undercover as Ukrainian civilians," a military source with knowledge of the operation told The Guardian. "The Russians had no idea what was going on."
If Ukraine's reported advances in Kharkiv are held, it could be a serious blow to Russia and one of its most significant victories since Russian forces were forced to retreat from around Kyiv in April.