Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday visited a frontline command post in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have been stepping up attacks after holding back a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Zelensky praised Ukrainian troops deployed around Kupiansk, where Russian forces have been mounting attacks to reclaim territory they lost in a lightning Ukrainian offensive last year.
But the frontline has largely remained static for the last year despite a massive push by Ukrainian forces this summer with Western military hardware.
“Fighters on the Kupiansk front are protecting the peaceful life of Ukrainians and the people of the Kharkiv region,” Zelensky said in a post on social media.
“I wish you victory, be strong and don’t lose the initiative.”
Zelensky’s visit came as Russia’s defence ministry said Moscow’s forces had repelled two Ukrainian assaults near Kupiansk with the help of fighter jets and artillery.
Ukrainian military officials meanwhile said Russian forces had continued trying to wrest control of Avdiivka, a frontline town in the neighbouring Donetsk region.
Russia launched a renewed bid to capture the war-battered town last month and analysts suggest Moscow’s forces have made incremental gains, though at an enormous human cost.
“The enemy continues active ground infantry attacks in the operational area of the Tavria operational-strategic group of troops. In some places, they use armoured vehicles,” said Oleksandr Tarnavsky, who is responsible for fighting in the east.
- Toddler, children wounded by missiles -
He said Ukrainian forces had fended off more than 20 Russian attacks on several towns and villages around Avdiivka and that Ukraine had taken dozens of Russian forces captive in the last month.
AFP was not able to independently verify the claims.
Local officials in the Donetsk region earlier said that one person was killed and several more were missing after simultaneous Russian strikes on three towns.
The industrial region has seen some of the fiercest fighting of Russia’s nearly two-year invasion. The Kremlin claimed to have annexed it last year, along with three other regions.
Russian forces fired six S-300 rockets on Pokrovsk, Novogrodivka and Myrnograd, officials in Kyiv said, before local authorities announced the fatality.
“At the site of the shelling of a residential building in Novogrodivka, the body of a dead man was recovered from the rubble,” Igor Moroz, the acting head of the Donetsk region, said.
He said emergency workers were still searching for four people trapped under the debris, including one child. Kyiv earlier said 10 people had been injured in the attacks.
“The search and rescue operation is ongoing,” Moroz said in a statement on social media.
In Pokrovsk, Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said a six-month-old baby had been wounded alongside boys of 13 and 16.
“One of the shells exploded in the yard of a house where a family with two children lived. As a result of the shelling, the roof and walls of the house were destroyed, and the family was buried under the rubble,” he added.
Russian forces and their proxies have controlled large swathes of the Donetsk region since 2014, when large-scale pro-democracy protests in Ukraine led to a separatist conflict in the east.
Ukraine’s airforce said separately on Thursday morning that they had downed 14 out of 20 Russian attack drones overnight over southern, eastern and central regions of the country.
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