By Yuliia Dysa
(Reuters) -Ukrainian forces used U.S.-supplied long-range ATACMS missiles for the first time, inflicting heavy damage on two airfields in Russian-occupied areas, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy saying on Tuesday that the weapons had "proven themselves".
The Ukrainian military had issued reports throughout the day about successful, high-precision strikes on airfields near Luhansk in Ukraine's east and in Berdiansk in the south, on the Sea of Azov, both under Russian control.
"Today, special thanks to the United States. Our agreements with President Biden are being implemented. Very accurately - ATACMS proved themselves," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
Ukraine had repeatedly asked the U.S. administration for ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems). Kyiv pledged not to use them inside Russia's territory but said the powerful weapons would alter the course of the 20-month-old war.
Deploying the weapons would allow Ukrainian forces to disrupt previously unreachable supply lines, air bases and rail networks used by Russia in occupied territories, senior officials said.
Ukrainian Special Forces, without initially mentioning the ATACMS, said that nine helicopters, an air defence missile launcher, runways and other equipment had been destroyed, and heavy losses inflicted on Russian forces.
There was no official comment from Russia. But a Moscow-installed official in partially Moscow-controlled Zaporizhzhia region, which is home to Berdiansk, said that cluster munitions from the ATACMS missiles were found there on Tuesday.
Earlier, Rogov said that Russian air defences had ensured that a Ukrainian air attack near Berdiansk was not successful.
Zelenskiy's comments mark the first confirmed use in Ukraine of the ATACMS, which can fly up to 190 miles (310 km). The country's Defence Ministry promised on X, formerly Twitter, that there would be "more news to come".
"As you can see, it is now possible to hit targets impeccably, with great precision, giving the enemy no chance," Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat told national television.
Kyiv's Western partners have been careful about supplying long-range missiles needed for its four-month-old counteroffensive, fearing it would provoke the Kremlin. It is not clear how many ATACMS missiles Ukraine has.
ATACMS are designed for "deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces," a U.S. Army website says.
A NEW CHAPTER
Ukraine's presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said a new chapter of the war had begun.
"There are no more safe places for Russian troops within the ... internationally recognized borders of Ukraine," he wrote on X.
Russian military bloggers commented on the attacks during the day, with Telegram channel Fighterbomber saying Russian forces had suffered losses of personnel and equipment in strikes carried out with ATACMS.
Citing two unidentified U.S. officials, CNN said Washington had secretly delivered ATACMS to Kyiv. The Wall Street Journal said Ukraine had fired the ATACMS for the first time on Tuesday.
Since starting a counteroffensive in June, Kyiv has frequently attacked military targets in Russian-occupied areas, but it has failed to liberate significant territory from Russian occupation.
Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesperson for Ukraine's southern group of forces, told national television that there had been no letup in Russia's week-old assault on the devastated town of Avdiivka in the east, with Ukrainian forces repelling 10 attacks.
Shtupun also said Ukrainian forces advancing southward to the Sea of Azov had registered "partial success" west of Verbove, one of a cluster of villages it is trying to capture.
The Ukrainian military said Russia was hoping to advance as far as possible towards the town of Kupiansk in northeastern Ukraine before winter.
(Additional reporting by Mike Stone in Washignton, Susan Heavey, Ron Popeski and Maria Starkova; Editing by Ron Popeski and Stephen Coates)