Ukraine said Friday it had carried out successful attacks on the Russian-occupied eastern bank of the Dnipro river, days after Moscow admitted Kyiv's forces had gained a foothold there.
A sustained Ukrainian breakthrough across the frontline waterway would mark a significant success for Kyiv, whose wider counteroffensive has so far failed to turn the tide of the 21-month war.
"The Armed Forces of Ukraine managed to consolidate several bridgeheads on the left bank of the Dnipro River (Kherson axis)," the army said in its evening update.
It said Ukrainian defence forces "continue to hold ground... and are taking steps to expand the foothold."
In earlier statements, Ukraine's Marine Corps said it had "conducted a series of successful operations" and that "heavy fighting continues."
The rival armies have been entrenched on opposite sides of the Dnipro since Russia withdrew from the western part of Kherson region last November, in an embarrassing setback for the Kremlin.
That was the last major territorial change in the conflict, with both sides having since failed to make progress despite multiple offensives.
Russia's defence ministry later appeared to reject Kyiv's claims of a breakthrough.
"The enemy (is) on the right (western) bank of the Dnipro," the ministry said in a statement, adding that it had thwarted Ukrainian attempts to land on unspecified islands.
Both sides said they had inflicted heavy losses on the other -- claims AFP could not verify.
- 'Fiery hell' -
Since their withdrawal, Russian forces have continuously shelled Ukrainian towns and villages across the river, forcing civilian evacuations.
The governor of Kherson region said early Friday that one person was killed in the latest Russian shelling, following at least three deaths the day before.
Earlier this week, the Russian-installed official responsible for occupied Kherson conceded for the first time that some Ukrainian units had crossed the Dnipro and established positions on the eastern bank.
He said Kyiv's troops were "blocked" in Krynky, a small village on the eastern bank of the Dnipro river, and were facing a "fiery hell" from Russian artillery, rockets and drones.
The official, Vladimir Saldo, said Ukraine had only been able to cross the river by "throwing meat" -- a euphemism for military assaults that involve huge numbers of manpower and encounter heavy losses.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday posted photos on social media of what he said were Ukrainian soldiers on the Dnipro's eastern bank. They showed a handful of soldiers crossing a river in a small boat and disembarking.
Kyiv hopes the foothold will open up the possibility for a more sustained offensive in the south and towards the annexed Crimean peninsula.
But Russia's Saldo said boggy, swamp-like terrain, combined with Russia's superior manpower and supplies give them a significant upper hand.
The battle comes two weeks after Ukraine's top commander said the war had ground to a "stalemate" -- an assessment rejected by both Zelensky and the Kremlin.
Also on Friday, Russia's defence ministry said its troops fighting further to the east on the "southern Donetsk front" had "taken up more favourable positions" -- language previously used by Russia when announcing retreats and withdrawals. The ministry did not give further details however.
- Zelensky's warning -
Away from the front lines, Ukraine is braced for increased Russian air strikes across the country as winter approaches.
Zelensky warned late Thursday that Moscow was likely stockpiling missiles to hit energy facilities over the coming months.
Last year, millions of Ukrainians suffered debilitating blackouts after relentless Russian strikes on power stations and the electrical grid.
"My estimation is that they are accumulating (missiles), but that they don't have many more missiles compared to what they previously had," Zelensky told reporters on Thursday, referring to last year's attacks.
Zelensky said Ukraine was in a better position now than last year but he warned in separate comments that Ukraine did not have "100 percent protection" from Russian aerial attacks.
And deliveries of key artillery shells to Ukraine dropped off after fighting erupted between Israel and Hamas last month, Zelensky told reporters.
Ukrainian officials have been regularly meeting with allies to try to stave off the fatigue with the conflict.
Zelensky on Friday welcomed a new aid package from Finland, while Defence Minister Rustem Umerov hailed an additional $2.2 billion in military aid from the Netherlands.