Even as Ukrainian units have breached the first line of Russian defenses on part of the southern front, soldiers have been describing just how difficult it is to make more than incremental gains in the face of complex and multi-layered fortifications.
Ukrainian forces say they have taken one village -- Robotyne -- in Zaporizhzhia region, and are moving towards several others in a bid to bring the strategic hub of Tokmak within range of artillery.
One soldier, a communications specialist named Oleksandr Solonko, has written in detail about the challenges of making progress in the area, with his account supported by others.
The lay of the land: First, he said, the topography of the region has left many Ukrainian troops exposed.
"Whoever you are, an assault group ... an evac[uation mission], an airborne or ground reconnaissance, your movement is visible from afar. The enemy has been preparing to meet you for a long time," he said.
"There are a limited number of access roads and logistics routes. Everything has been shot at and shelled repeatedly every day. You are almost certainly being spotted. It is basically impossible to do the job while remaining completely invisible to the enemy."
On Friday, a Ukrainian officer with a front line unit also told CNN that the open terrain was a challenge, with drones from both sides overhead.
"It is impossible to hide any movement of equipment, any maneuver immediately becomes known to the enemy and shelling begins either with artillery or drones."
The officer added that, unlike in Bakhmut, there were no basements in which to shelter.
Trenches and minefields: Solonko also said that Russian fortifications were elaborate. "There is an entire system of trenches, dugouts, actual tunnels in some places ... Automatic grenade launchers, machine guns, anti-tank missile systems. Anti-tank ditches and minefields stretch across the fields."
"What is not dug up is mined. We need to go through all this to move forward."
Multiple accounts in recent weeks speak of Ukrainian sappers - soldiers tasked with clearing minefields - making slow progress, with some of the weapons set off by tripwires that were intensively laid as a first line of defense by the Russians.
"Our positions on the retaken territory are surrounded by mines and tripwires. Paths are being made to enter, sappers are gradually clearing the territory."
Air power: Solonko also acknowledged the loss of Ukrainian armor in the region "because of the enemy's superiority in the air."
"Guided aerial bombs are one of the biggest fears. The Russians use them on a massive scale. I can't judge the accuracy, but the weapon is formidable in power."
The Russians are extensively using drones for surveillance and targeting Ukrainian positions, according to Solonko. "They identify targets and launch Lancets in swarms as well as guided bombs."
But he says that US-donated vehicles are saving lives, with one soldier he'd spoken to revealing he'd survived a direct attack twice in Bradley (fighting vehicles).
Defenses run deep: Analysts have said there are deeply entrenched defenses further ahead. OSINT analyst Emil Kastehelmi notes that "the Russians have built 100-350m long communication trenches, which helps them both reinforce or retreat from the fighting positions."
"Heavy fortifications are built in order to block any potential advance on the main road towards Tokmak," Kastehelmi wrote Sunday in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The Institute for the Study of War commented in its latest front line assessment that "Ukrainian forces are now within striking distance of the next series of Russian defensive positions, which appears to be comprised of a relatively more contiguous array of anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth anti-tank obstacles, with Russian fighting positions behind these obstacles similar to the previous layer of Russian defenses."
ISW added: "The highly interconnected systems of trenches and dugouts that the Ukrainian soldier described is the result of months of Russian preparation. It is unclear if Russian forces extended that system throughout subsequent series of defensive positions further south."