Ukrainians walking through the streets of Zaporizhzhia voiced hope and careful optimism as intensifying combat in the south of Ukraine suggested Kyiv was kicking its offensive into gear.

Russia said the long-expected offensive had begun, while Ukrainian officials mostly remained silent or downplayed the scale of the moves.

"It feels good... it is heartwarming that we are slowly beginning to liberate our territories," said 84-year-old Viktor, wearing big sunglasses and a white cap.

"We were all waiting for (the counter-offensive). The sooner the better," he said.

In recent weeks, speculation has mounted over Kyiv's plans to claw back ground in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, as well as the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Maksym, 35, said he hoped Russians would "be kicked out as soon as possible so that we could return to our normal life, just as it was."

Kyiv said its troops were ready for the counter-offensive but warned there would be no formal announcement of when it begins.

Russia said it repelled several assaults while Ukraine, as pledged, said little about the clashes.

- 'Rooting for our soldiers' -


Fighting has intensified in the Zaporizhzhia region, according to official Russian reports, including around the Ukrainian-held town of Orikhiv.

The small settlement is only a few kilometres away from a front line that has barely moved since early in the invasion.

AFP journalists in Orikhiv last month said only around 1,000 residents remained out of a pre-war population of 14,000.

In Zaporizhzhia, AFP spoke to 65-year-old Lyubov, a resident from Orikhiv who described around-the-clock explosions in her hometown.

"I don't have a basement to hide in. We hide in the house," Lyubov she said.

Her street and garden were hit three days ago.

"What do people say? We are advancing... and then those Russians give us a hard time."

Information remains limited as Kyiv aims to use the fog of war to its advantage.

Officials, warning that too much information could hurt the troops, have advocated for silence.

"I think people tried not to talk about it for as long as possible," said 28-year old Elina.

She said she could not comment on the offensive itself, as she waited for the army to give more information.

"But I'm rooting for our soldiers," Elina said.

"My relatives are taking part in war, so I have someone to root for, someone to wait and pray for."