Reinforced Russian troops, backed by airstrikes, slammed across eastern Ukraine, blowing up bridges and bombing apartment buildings as they battled to capture two towns that would place a disputed province under Moscow’s control, Ukrainian officials said.
Russian and Ukrainian forces are fighting street by street in Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Lysychansk, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said.
The Russian strikes killed four people, including a mother and a child, in the nearby village of Hirske, Haidai said.
The cities are the last major regions of Lugansk province still held by Ukraine.
The Russian attacks are central to the Kremlin’s diminished wartime goal of seizing the entire Donbass region, where Moscow-backed separatists fought Ukrainian forces for eight years and established self-declared republics.
Russia has also stepped up its attacks around Bakhmut, a town in Doneskt, the other province of Donbass, the Ukrainian army said as the war reached its 101st day.
In recent days, the Russians have focused on capturing Sievierodonetsk, which had a population of around 100,000 before the war.
At one point they held 90% of the city, but Ukrainian soldiers reclaimed ground, Haidai reported on Friday.
Western military analysts have said Russia is devoting significant manpower and firepower to what British officials describe as a “creeping advance” into Donbass.
“The combined use of airstrikes and artillery has been a key factor in Russia’s recent tactical successes in the region,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in an assessment on Saturday.
He warned that after launching so many guided missiles, Russia is using unguided missiles which have “almost certainly caused significant collateral damage and civilian casualties”.
The Ukrainian General Staff said its forces repelled nine attacks in Donbass in 24 hours.
The claim could not be independently verified.
As Russian forces focus on taking Donbass in the east, Ukrainian troops have staged counterattacks in an attempt to regain territory in the south of their country.
After seizing most of the Kherson and Dnipropetrovsk regions, as well as the port city of Mariupol, Moscow installed local administrators, offered residents Russian passports and took other steps to consolidate its hold on the occupied areas.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Russian officials and troops were facing growing resistance among the local population and “an increase in partisan activity in southern Ukraine”.
The institute cited accounts on Russian Telegram channels of threats against residents who were issued Russian passports.
The Ukrainian Center for National Resistance, which has set up a website to advise residents on sabotage and other techniques, said Kherson residents are being encouraged to burn down a Russian passport center.
The Ukrainian military staff noted with satisfaction the difficulties encountered by the Russian occupation authorities.
He said Russian leaders in Kherson wore body armor and traveled in armored vehicles.
In other developments:
– The bodies of more than 1,300 civilians have been exhumed so far in the Ukrainian capital region following the Russian military withdrawal from the vicinity of Kyiv, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported on Saturday.
The bodies were sent to morgues for forensic examination and some 200 of the victims have not been identified, ministry spokeswoman Alyona Matveyeva said.
Since Russia’s withdrawal from the Kyiv region in early April, Ukrainian authorities have been collecting the dead, exhuming bodies from mass graves and working to document the killings and collect evidence for possible war crimes investigations. and possible lawsuits.
— A Russian rocket hit an agricultural site in the Odessa region on Saturday, injuring two, according to a regional military chief.
Odessa is home to Ukraine’s largest seaport and is therefore vital to the country’s ability to ship grain and other goods.
The rocket attack came hours after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted: “Ukraine is ready to create the necessary conditions to resume exports from the port of Odessa. The question is how to ensure that Russia does not abuse the trade route to attack the city.
– Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in an interview published on Saturday that Russia suffered far fewer military casualties compared to the first six weeks of the war.
The lower numbers could make Russian commanders believe “that they are fighting successfully”, Podolyak was quoted by the Meduza website as saying.
Speaking on Ukrainian television, he expressed optimism that new weapons supplied by the West and promised to Ukraine could change the “mathematics” of war.
— A driver accompanying journalists was killed and two Reuters journalists were injured on Friday when their vehicle came under fire on its way to Sievierodonetsk.
The identity of the driver was not revealed and the circumstances of the attack were unclear.
Reuters reported that photographer Alexander Ermoshenko and cameraman Pavel Klimov were injured while riding in a car provided by Russian-backed forces on a stretch of road under Russian control.
Four days earlier, a French TV journalist was killed when his armored vehicle was hit by Russian shrapnel near Sievierodonetsk.