Kyiv said its forces were "managing to stabilise" the situation around Bakhmut, a now-destroyed city in eastern Ukraine that has seen the longest battle of the Russian invasion.

Bakhmut -- which once had an estimated population of around 70,000 people -- has been virtually emptied of civilians over months of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.

The frontline situation is "the toughest in the Bakhmut direction", the head of Ukraine's armed forces Valery Zaluzhny said late Friday after a phone call with Britain's Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin.

"Due to the tremendous efforts of the Defence Forces, we are managing to stabilise the situation," Zaluzhny said on Facebook. 

Russian forces have been posting painstakingly incremental gains around the city, whose symbolic importance surpassed any military significance as the battle dragged on.

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According to the British defence ministry's latest intelligence update on Saturday, Russia's assault on Bakhmut "has largely stalled".

"This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian forces," the British statement read, adding that in the battle Ukraine had also "suffered heavy casualties".

Senior Ukrainian military commander Oleksandr Syrsky said Thursday that a counter-attack could be launched soon against "exhausted" Russian forces near Bakhmut.

Syrsky's statement came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced he had visited Ukrainian forces near the Bakhmut frontline Wednesday.

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The attack killed five children, including two babies less than a year old, according to statements by Zelensky and the regional governor.

The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Monday that his forces were in control of around 70 percent of the city.

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