Posting a picture of their troops on Feb. 10 outside Pavlopil town hall, some 35 kilometers northeast of their base in the strategic port city of Mariupol, the battalion said that it had also seized the villages of Oktyabyr and Shyrokyne on their way to assault the Russian and separatist-held city of Novoazovsk.

“Ukrainian flags are already flying on government buildings in Pavlopil, Oktyabyr and Shyrokyne,” Azov Battalion press officer Andrii Biletski told the Kyiv Post live from the offensive.

“Our exact position now is secret, but we’re going all the way to Novoazovsk.”

With Russian-backed forces focused on a fierce battle to wrest control of the strategic railway city of Debaltseve from Ukraine, the battalion has surged forward along the coast, pushing Russian-backed forces all the way to the town of Sakhanka.

“We have absolute control of these places and there is no more resistance,” Biletskovo said.

At Sakhanka itself, the Azov Battalion said that Russian-backed forces were fighting back with armor and heavy caliber weapons.

The front around Mariupol has been relatively quiet since Kremlin-backed separatists launched flurries of rockets at a city suburb on Jan. 24, killing 30 people and wounding another 100.

Forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have since poured massed artillery fire on Debaltseve, sending tanks and troops in to capture the town’s outlying villages in an attempt to cut off the 8,000 Ukrainian troops dug in there.

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksander Turchynov, was in the Mariupol vicinity on Feb. 10 in order to coordinate the government assault.

“Units of the National Guard of Ukraine have burst through the militants’ defense and have launched an offensive near the city of Mariupol,” the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine’s press service reported.

“NSDC Secretary Oleksander Turchynov travelled to the military operation zone near Mariupol to coordinate with military personnel there.”

Azov Battalion’s counter-offensive appears to be a coordinated effort by the Ukrainian military designed to relieve pressure on the embattled Debaltseve garrison, surrounded on three sides by separatist forces.

Vladyslav Selezniov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s General staff, said that the Ukrainian army was battling for control of the Debaltseve-Artyomovsk road, the only supply route into Ukraine’s positions in the town.

“The situation remains tense at the moment. The ATO staff is sending special units to the area for [the purpose of] blocking and destroying the militants on that stretch of road,” Selezniov said at a press briefing in Kyiv on Feb 10.

The fighting has killed at least 5,486 people and left 12,972 wounded, according to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs a report issued late on Monday. That number was given as a “conservative estimate,” with the true total likely to be “considerably higher.”

The U.S. is considering arming Ukraine in response to the spike in fighting, a move which the country’s European allies generally oppose.

A new round of sanctions is also on the table, although discussion of those proposals are paused until the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine meet for fresh peace talks in Minks on Feb. 11.

Kyiv Post editor Maxim Tucker can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @MaxRTucker

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