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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his meeting with the Moldovan president and the European Council president, in Kyiv, in this handout picture taken and released by the Ukrainian Presidential press service on Nov. 21.-/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian forces staved off unrelenting Russian attacks on the devastated eastern Ukraine city of Avdiivka on Thursday, a senior official said, and Russian shelling killed four people on the war’s southern front in Kherson region.

With little movement along the 1,000-km (600-mile) front line, Moscow has been focused since mid-October on capturing Avdiivka, a town noted for its vast coking plant and proximity to the Russian-held regional centre of Donetsk.

Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military administration, said Russian forces had unleashed “the fiercest” attacks on the devastated town, where fewer than 1,400 of 32,000 pre-war residents remain.

“Basically, nothing has changed. Everything is very tough. As regards the city, there is an average number of eight to 16 to 18 air attacks per day. Sometimes 30. We don’t have time to count them,” Barabash told Channel 24 television.

“I am pleased the defence line has been holding for a month and a half. It has not been breached, no matter what they say.”

He said 102 residents, a “certain record,” had been evacuated in the past week along the lone road out of the town.

The town is protected by fortifications erected after it was briefly seized by Russian-financed separatists in 2014.

Russian accounts of the fighting rarely mention Avdiivka. On Thursday, the Russian Defence Ministry said its forces had struck Ukrainian units further south in Donetsk region.

Reuters could not verify reports from either side.

FIGHTING IN THE NORTHEAST

Ukrainian officials have noted Russian attempts to advance in Ukraine’s northeast near Kupansk, a town seized by Russian forces in the days after the February 2022 invasion but retaken by Ukrainian troops about a year ago.

Military analyst Serhiy Zgurets, interviewed by the Espreso TV news outlet, quoted commanders as saying Russian forces were bearing down on Senkyvka village, with the aim of pushing Ukrainian forces back to the Oskil River.

Overnight temperatures of minus 13 Celsius (9 Fahrenheit), had frozen the ground, easing the advance for Russian vehicles.

Russian forces have focused on the east since failing in their initial attempt to advance on Kyiv. They hold a little less than 20% of Ukrainian territory.

In southern Kherson region, prosecutors said Russian forces had shelled the town of Beryslav, killing a man on a bicycle. In a separate shelling incident targeting several settlements, two men and a woman were killed, they said.

Russian troops abandoned Kherson and the western bank of the Dnipro River late last year, but now regularly shell those areas from positions on the eastern bank.

Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive in June and have made marginal gains in the east and south. Kyiv last week said troops had established a bridgehead on the Dnipro’s east bank, but Russian officials dispute this.

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