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Heavy fighting continues in the eastern Ukrainian region of the Donbas, with clashes reported all along front line, Ukrainian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Andriy Lysenko said on March 17 at a briefing in Kyiv.

In the past 24 hours, Ukrainian military positions were shelled at least 77 times, with heavy weapons being used by Russian-backed forces in half of the attacks, Lysenko said.

In the last day two Ukrainian servicemen have been killed in action, and eight wounded, including a woman, he said.

In Luhansk region, Russian-backed forces have been launching short but intense mortar and artillery barrages. The heaviest of these came in in Popasna and Novoaidar districts, with at least 20 heavy artillery rounds and 50 mortar shells being fired at Ukrainian troops.

“The shelling mostly takes place after dark,” Lysenko said. “The enemy sporadically engages (Ukrainian) frontline positions with firearms, mortars and armored vehicles.”

There have been civilian casualties as well: A teenage boy was wounded by shelling on March 17 when Russian-backed fighters targeted the village of Valuiske near Stanytsia Luhanska with artillery fire.

In the Donetsk sector, fighting has been continuing day and night, with tank fire, artillery, mortars and sniper fire being directed at Ukrainian troops.

“The situation remains most difficult near Avdiyivka and its nearby frontline zones,” Lysenko said, referring to the frontline Ukrainian city in Donetsk Oblast where the latest surge in fighting broke out in late January.

“Usually the enemy becomes active in the afternoon, making coordinated attempts to attack our troops from several directions,” he said.

In the area south of Avdiyivka, Russian-backed forces continue directing artillery, tank and mortar fire against all key Ukrainian army fortified positions. A new artillery position located near a school building in the separatist-controlled town of Spartak has fired up to 150 rounds on Ukrainian units near Avdiyivka, Kamianka and the Butovka coal mine over the past day.

The attacks wounded two Ukrainian soldiers, and Ukrainian artillery has been actively returning fire, Lysenko said.

Avdiyivka’s old private housing sector again came under mortar fire on March 16, with one house suffering a direct hit. There were no casualties among civilians, however.

Heating and electricity supplies, which have been repeatedly cut off in the city due to the ongoing fighting, have been restored again, Lysenko said.

In the Mariupol sector, the most intense fighting was seen near the town of Novotroitske some 50 kilometers south of Donetsk, where a two-and-a-half-hour firefight took place overnight. There were also clashes in the area east of Mariupol.

In recent days Ukrainian military intelligence has repeatedly warned of the growing danger of enemy commando units attempting to penetrate the frontline, according to Lysenko.

”The militants are intensifying their tactics of deploying sabotage teams behind our lines,” Lysenko told the Kyiv Post.

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