Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russian commanders of “craziness” in their efforts to capture the eastern town of Bakhmut.
The town – which sits in the Donetsk region and had a pre-war population of 70,000 – has been the centre of Russian attacks for months.
Despite a looming Ukrainian advance on the key city of Kherson, Mr Zelensky said the attacks continued in force.
Taking the town would be a symbolic victory for Russia.
“This is where the craziness of the Russian command is most evident,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly address from Kyiv. “Day after day, for months, they are driving people to their deaths there, concentrating the highest level of artillery strikes.”
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr Zelensky, said that on one day, Russian forces launched eight separate attacks on Bakhmut before lunchtime and had been pushed back on each occasion.
The city sits on a main road leading to the Ukrainian-held cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. While Russia is struggling elsewhere in Ukraine, its forces have made progress around Bakhmut in recent weeks.
Analysts say the city has little military value in itself, though if it were to fall, it would bring other cities back within range of Russian artillery and help change the narrative of a conflict in which Moscow’s forces have been gradually retreating.
Regular Russian troops in the region are reportedly being supported by Wagner paramilitary mercenaries. The group’s founder, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, is said to want to capture the town as a political prize.
On Sunday, the mercenary chief acknowledged the slow pace of the Russian advance on Bakhmut, saying troops were gaining only “100-200 metres a day”.
“Our units are constantly meeting with the most fierce enemy resistance, and I note that the enemy is well prepared, motivated, and works confidently and harmoniously,” Mr Prigozhin said in a statement published by one of his companies. “This does not prevent our fighters from moving forward, but I cannot comment on how long it will take.”
Despite the intense attacks, Mr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were holding their ground and hailed his troops as “heroes”.
In the south, Ukrainian forces are moving closer to Kherson, where Russian authorities have ordered the evacuation of civilians.
Zelensky said his troops were “strengthening our positions everywhere at the front, reducing the capabilities of the occupiers, destroying their logistics, and preparing good news for Ukraine,” despite not providing a specific update on the advance.
However, Kyiv officials have issued a warning that Russian forces are consolidating their positions around the city, and intercepted radio reports imply that newly “mobilized” Russian recruits have been dispatched to the area to fortify defenses.
The “heaviest of battles is going to take place for Kherson,” Mr. Arestovych predicted on Tuesday, claiming that no Russian forces were preparing to leave the city.
The counteroffensive will be more challenging than the eastern advance that quickly pushed Russian troops back in September, according to Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, who claimed that the pace of the advance is being slowed by wet weather.
Administrators who were pro-Russian in the eastern province of Luhansk claimed that Ukrainian forces had resumed their advance there. They reported fierce fighting near the Russian-conquered towns of Kreminna and Svatove, which fell earlier this year.
Authorities in Crimea who have been installed by Russia claimed on Thursday that they had shot down a Ukrainian drone near the Balaklava thermal power plant. The local power supply was not in danger, according to officials, despite the fact that it briefly caught fire.
More than 20 Iranian “kamikaze” drones were launched by Russian forces overnight, primarily aiming for the southern regions of Mykolaiv and Odesa, according to Ukraine’s air force, of which 19 were destroyed. Local authorities claimed that Russian forces also attacked the Kyiv region, but they said that according to early reports, no one was hurt.
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