KYIV – Russia said on Wednesday its troops had broken through two fortified lines of Ukrainian defences on the eastern front, as Kyiv described the situation there as difficult and demanded faster military aid ahead of a predicted Russian offensive.
The Russian Defence Ministry said the Ukrainians had retreated in the face of Russian attacks in the Luhansk region, although it provided no details.
“During the offensive … the Ukrainian troops randomly retreated to a distance of up to 3km from the previously occupied lines,” the ministry said on the Telegram messaging app.
“Even the more fortified second line of defence of the enemy could not hold the breakthrough of the Russian military.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Ukrainian forces had repelled some Russian attacks in Luhansk but added: “The situation in the region remains difficult.”
The Kremlin has intensified attacks across a swathe of southern and eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, and a major new offensive has been widely anticipated.
Russia’s main effort has been focused on the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk province adjacent to Luhansk.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces did not mention any significant setbacks in Luhansk in its regular morning update. It said Ukrainian units repelled attacks in the areas of more than 20 settlements, including Bakhmut and Vuhledar – a town 150km southwest of Bakhmut.
Mr Zelensky on Tuesday said Russia was in a hurry to achieve as much as it can with its latest push before Ukraine and its allies gather strength.
“That is why speed is of the essence,” he said as Nato defence chiefs met in Brussels for talks that continue on Wednesday. “Speed in everything – adopting decisions, carrying out decisions, shipping supplies, training. Speed saves people’s lives.”
Bakhmut’s capture would provide a stepping stone for Russia to advance on two bigger cities, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk, giving it momentum after months of setbacks ahead of the first anniversary of the invasion on Feb 24.
“The battles are literally for every foot of Ukrainian land,” Mr Zelensky said, describing the conditions on the eastern frontline in his evening address on Tuesday.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said there was fighting “around every single house” in Bakhmut. “The situation remains extremely difficult, but under control of our forces and the front line has not moved,” he said in a YouTube video.
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