KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian officials reported intense combat as Russian forces relentlessly assaulted the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka for a fifth consecutive day Saturday.
City leader Vitalii Barabash reported that Moscow was deploying additional forces to encircle the strategically important city in the eastern Donetsk region, situated just north of the Russian-held regional capital, also called Donetsk.
“The enemy hasn’t stopped either assaulting or shelling positions” around Avdiivka, Barabash said on Ukrainian television.
Around 1,600 civilians remain within the city, a stark contrast to its prewar population of about 31,000. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine in February 2022.
Barabash’s comments came after Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday that the intensified attacks in the east amounted to a new stage in Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine.
“Russian troops have, for several days now, switched over to active combat action practically throughout the entire front line. … The so-called Ukrainian counteroffensive can therefore be considered finished,” he said.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier this week that Ukrainian forces were keeping Russian troops at bay and “holding our ground.”
Donetsk’s acting regional governor, Ihor Moroz, said Saturday that 22 civilians were wounded in Russian shelling in the region over the previous 24 hours.
Further north, fighting along the northern stretch of Ukraine’s eastern front has “significantly worsened” in recent days, Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s land forces, wrote on Facebook Saturday.
Syrskyi, who visited troops in the area, said that Russian forces had regrouped following losses and were mounting attacks around the village of Makiivka and pushing toward the city of Kupiansk, with the goal of encircling Kupiansk and reaching the Oskil River.
Also on Saturday, two women — ages 60 and 42 — were killed in two Russian shelling attacks in the city of Beryslav in Ukraine’s partly-occupied Kherson region.
In Russia, the Defense Ministry said air defense systems shot down two Ukrainian drones over the Black Sea near the southern resort city of Sochi on Saturday morning. A drone was also shot down in the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine during the afternoon, regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said. Ukrainian officials have never acknowledged responsibility for attacks on Russian territory.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine