Russian artillery strikes pounded two areas of the front line in Ukraine, military authorities said on Sunday, as Moscow pushed to break through Kyiv’s last remaining defenses around the eastern city of Bakhmut and bombarded the southern region of Kherson.
Three civilians were killed in the eastern Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is, and two more civilians were killed in the Kherson region, officials said.
Russia “keeps attacking the positions of Ukrainian troops” around Bakhmut, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Sunday in its daily update. But it denied a claim made by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group that the village of Yahidne, northwest of the city, had fallen into Russian hands.
Bakhmut has for months been the focus of a grinding Russian campaign along the roughly 140-mile eastern front. Capturing Bakhmut would constitute Russia’s biggest battlefield victory in months, and the city is seen as key to seizing the entire Donbas region of eastern Ukraine as President Vladimir V. Putin has ordered. Russian forces have taken a series of towns and villages around the city in recent weeks, as they seek to encircle Ukraine’s fighters.
Both sides have sustained heavy losses in the battle for Bakhmut that, since it began last summer, has taken on outsized importance. The report from Ukraine’s General Staff detailed clashes on Saturday along a frontline stretching around 60 miles from the towns of Lyman to Avdiivka, close to the eastern city of Donetsk, the regional capital. In all, three civilians were killed.
“Avdiivka is under heavy enemy fire. Today, the Russians have already shelled the town with artillery twice,” said the head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, on the Telegram social messaging app. “Shells and rockets slammed into residential neighborhoods and an industrial zone, injuring at least one person.”
Russia has ramped up its push in recent weeks in an attempt to secure the whole of the Donbas region. Ukraine is also gearing up for a renewed offensive of its own with the aim of expanding the territorial gains made last fall in Kharkiv region of the northeast and in the south, where Kyiv’s forces forced a Russian retreat from Kherson city.
Since pulling out of Kherson Russian forces have rained down missiles on the city and its environs. There were 78 separate strikes with tanks, mortars and multiple rocket launchers on Saturday alone, the regional military administration said. Two people were killed and three others were injured.