Russian troops tried on Thursday to sever important supply routes into the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and thereby put more pressure on defending forces, Ukrainian officers said.
Russian units have been trying for 10 months to punch their way into the shattered remains of what was once a city of 70,000. Kyiv is pledging to defend Bakhmut, which Russia sees as a stepping stone to attacking other cities.
One of those cities further west, Kostyantynivka, was hit by a Russian missile on Thursday. A school, a hospital and residential buildings were damaged and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said people had been injured.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukrainian troops in the east, told the Freedom television channel that Bakhmut had seen 13 new combat clashes in the past 24 hours.
“The enemy’s main goal in the Bakhmut sector is to cut communication routes,” he said.
“But thanks to constant counter-battery combat … we can deliver supplies and evacuate our wounded.”
Russia’s Defence Ministry reported successes against Ukrainian positions in various sectors but made no direct reference to Bakhmut.
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleksander Musiyenko said districts were rapidly changing hands in fierce fighting.
“Ukraine is successfully conducting local counter-attacks, making it difficult for the Russians to capture Bakhmut,” Musiyenko told Ukrainian NV Radio.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which has spearheaded the Bakhmut campaign, said he had been joking earlier when he said his men would suspend artillery fire to allow Ukrainian forces to show the city to U.S. journalists.
Prigozhin, who has publicly lambasted Russia’s military establishment over its conduct of the war, is known for his combative style and ironic sense of humour.
Last month, after long complaining about shortages of supplies, Prigozhin said he and his men had been “blown away” by the fact that they had finally started to receive ammunition.