Ukrainian forces are heavily shelling the city of Bakhmut and have launched coordinated assaults on several villages in the region, a Russian-installed official said on Friday.

“Over the past 24 hours in the Krasnolimansk [Lyman] direction, the enemy took a number of actions and conducted combat reconnaissance in several directions at once," Denis Pushilin said in a video post on Telegram.

He added: “The situation in (Bakhmut) remains hot, (the city) itself is under chaotic shelling.”

Pushilin listed several villages in the north of Donetsk near the city of Lyman that said were under attack from Ukraine’s forces but claimed the assaults had been repelled. 

He also said Ukrainian forces were massing assault battalions north of Bakhmut. 

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Bakhmut was captured by Russian forces in May after months of brutal fighting but Ukrainian forces immediately began pushing back around its flanks and have recaptured several destroyed villages, AFP reports.

According to the latest report form the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations near Bakhmut on September 21 and reportedly advanced.

It added: “Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Ilya Yevlash stated on September 21 that Ukrainian forces achieved unspecified success near Odradivka (9km south of Bakhmut), Andriivka (10km southwest of Bakhmut), and Kurdyumivka (12km southwest of Bakhmut).”

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The developments come after shortly after President Zelensky vowed to retake the destroyed city of Bakhmut along with two other cities which he did not name.

“We will de-occupy Bakhmut,” Zelensky told CNN. I think that we will de-occupy two more cities.

“I will not tell you what cities, sorry. And so we have the plan. Very, very comprehensive plan.”

The industrial territory around Bakhmut has suffered the brunt of fighting since Russia's offensive and the battle for Bakhmut is the longest and one of the bloodiest of the conflict.

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Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive against heavily entrenched Russian positions in June but progress has been slow. 

The offensive has focused on the southern frontline and Ukrainian forces have broken through the most heavily fortified Russian first defensive line at several points. 

Geolocated footage appears to show that troops from the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) have broken through Russian defensive layers outside of Verbove in Western Zaporizhzhia, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on Thursday.

The ISW cautioned it could not confirm a definitive breakthrough but said it would represent the first time since the occupation of the area that Ukrainian armored vehicles were spotted beyond what it termed a “tri-layer” defense just west of Verbove, 18 km southeast of Orikhiv.

Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin have repeatedly downplayed the Ukrainian gains and claim that Kyiv's forces are running out of offensive potential.

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