POKROVST, Ukraine (AP) — Russian and Ukrainian troops engaged in close combat in a town in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as soldiers from Moscow, backed by heavy shelling, attempted to gain a strategic foothold in region while facing fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainian regional officials reported that Russian forces were “storming” the eastern town of Sievierodonetsk, where fighting cut off electricity and mobile phone services and terrorized civilians who did not flee.
Sievierodonetsk, a manufacturing hub, has become the epicenter of Russia’s quest to conquer Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region. Russia has also stepped up efforts to take nearby Lysychansk, where Ukrainian authorities have reported constant shelling.
The two cities, with a combined pre-war population of around 200,000, are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which together with neighboring Donetsk make up Donbass. Russia is focused on capturing parts of both that are not yet controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
Russian forces have made small advances in recent days as shelling gnawed at Ukrainian positions and kept civilians trapped in basements or desperately trying to get out to safety. Attacks aimed at destroying military targets across the country also resulted in casualties in civilian areas
In his Saturday evening video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the situation in the east as “very complicated” and “indescribably difficult”. “The Russian army is trying to achieve at least one result” by concentrating its attacks there, he said.
Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk said there was fighting at the city’s bus station on Saturday. A humanitarian center could not operate due to the danger, Striuk said, and cell phone service and electricity were cut. Residents risked being exposed to shelling to draw water from half a dozen wells, he said.
Some supply routes were working and evacuation of the injured was still possible, Striuk said. He estimated that 1,500 civilians in the city, which had a population of around 100,000 before the war, died from fighting as well as lack of medicine and incurable diseases.
Haidai, the regional governor, said the Russians had withdrawn “with losses” around the village of Bobrove, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Sievierodonetsk, but were carrying out airstrikes in a nearby village on the strategic river Siverskiy Donetsk.
“The situation in Lysychansk is serious due to the constant shelling of the occupiers, there are dead and injured,” he wrote on Telegram, without giving further details.
On Saturday, he said, one civilian died and four were injured after a Russian shell hit a high-rise building. A local cinema and 22 other residential buildings were also damaged, he said.
Ukraine’s military said Sunday morning that Russian forces were trying to reinforce their positions around Lyman, a small town that serves as a key rail hub in the Donetsk region.
“The enemy is strengthening its units,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said in an operational update. “He’s trying to establish himself in the area.”
Moscow claimed on Saturday that it took Lyman, but authorities in Kyiv did not acknowledge this.
The Ukrainian military said heavy fighting was taking place around Donetsk, the provincial capital.
He also said Russia launched an offensive on Saturday night around the town of Bakhmut in neighboring Lugansk region but was repelled.
In the same operational update, the army alluded to the high number of casualties suffered by Moscow, saying that civilians were no longer admitted to hospitals in Crimea annexed by Russia because beds were needed for soldiers. wounded.
It was not immediately possible to verify the accuracy of these claims.
More broadly, Russia launched new airstrikes overnight on the Kharkiv and Sumy regions of northern Ukraine, Ukrainian state agencies said.
The emergency department of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said Sunday morning that Russian shelling had sparked fires around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Russia has continued to shell Kharkiv, located in northeastern Ukraine, after Ukrainian fighters pushed its forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago.
The Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said a Russian shell ripped through the room of a house and injured a 50-year-old man and a 62-year-old woman early Sunday in the town of Zolochiv, about 40 kilometers (20 miles) ) to the northwest. from Kharkov.
Ukraine’s Border Guard Service said border areas in the Sumy region east of Kharkiv were hit by six unguided missiles. The agency reported no casualties.
Mazalan reported from Kyiv. Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and AP reporters around the world contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine