Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had visited two cities very close to one of the most active frontlines between his country’s troops and Russian forces, where a regional official said the situation had worsened for the Ukrainian side.
Ukrainian forces had suffered a slight reversal of fortunes after managing to retake half of the city of Sievierodonetsk, the main battlefield in the east where Russia has concentrated its forces, Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province where the city is located, told national television.
Gaidai did not go into details but said the Ukrainian troops were still holding their positions in the city’s industrial zone.
“The fiercest fighting is in Sievierodonetsk. Fast-moving fighting is happening right now,” he said.
Zelensky said he had traveled to Lysychansk, south of Sievierodonetsk, and Soledar - rare outings for him outside Kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24 and possibly the closest to the frontline yet.
“What you all deserve is victory - that is the most important thing. But not at any cost,” Zelensky, wearing his trademark khaki T-shirt, told Ukrainian troops in a video released on Sunday night.
Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk are in the Luhansk region and Soledar is in the Donetsk region. Together they make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, which Russia says it is on a mission to “liberate.”
Moscow has focused most of its firepower on the Donbas after Ukraine pushed its troops back from Kyiv and Ukraine’s second biggest city Kharkiv.
Russian forces were fortifying their positions in the Kharkiv region and “conducting intensive artillery and mortar shelling of our positions” to keep hold of the territory they had occupied, Ukraine’s military general staff said on Monday.
It said Russia was targeting civilian infrastructure in several towns in the region and the regional administration said three civilians were killed and 10 wounded in shelling.
It was not immediately possible to verify the toll. Moscow denies targeting civilians.
Russia struck Kyiv with missiles for the first time in more than a month on Sunday, with one person reported hospitalized. Dark smoke could be seen from many miles away after the attack on two outlying districts.
Ukraine said the strike hit a rail car repair works, while Moscow said it had destroyed tanks sent by Eastern European countries to Ukraine.
Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of the Ukrainian railway, confirmed four missiles had smashed into the Darnytsia rail car repair facility in eastern Kyiv, but said there was no military hardware at the site.
The strike was a reminder of war in Kyiv where normal life has largely returned since Russian forces were driven from its outskirts in March.
The “missile strikes at Kyiv have only one goal - kill as many as possible,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.
Ukraine said Russia had carried out the Kyiv strike using long-range air-launched missiles fired from heavy bombers as far away as the Caspian Sea.
Russia says the strikes are part of a campaign to degrade Ukraine’s military infrastructure and block Western arms shipments. President Vladimir Putin warned the United States on Sunday that Russia would strike new targets if the West supplied longer-range missiles to Ukraine for use in high-precision mobile rocket systems.
Britain said on Monday it would supply Ukraine with multiple-launch rocket systems that can strike targets up to 80 km (50 miles) away, a move that was coordinated with the United States in response to Russia’s invasion.
‘CONTINUE TO STORM SIEVIERODONETSK’
Heavy fighting continues in Sievierodonetsk and Russian forces are pushing towards Sloviansk, which lies about 85 km (53 miles) to the west, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said on Monday.
Both sides say they have inflicted huge casualties in Sievierodonetsk.
In Lysychansk, Russian forces fired on a bakery and several administrative and residential buildings, Gaidai said on Monday, adding one civilian had been wounded.
Evacuations resumed from the Ukrainian-held part of Luhansk province on Sunday, and 98 people had escaped, Gaidai said.
The governor of Russia’s western Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said the border village of Tyotkino had come under fire from Ukraine on Monday morning that targeted a bridge and some businesses. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Ukraine’s military reported that its forces repelled seven attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Sunday, destroying four tanks and shooting down a combat helicopter.
It was not immediately possible to verify the battlefield reports.
A Russian state media journalist on Sunday said Russian Major General Roman Kutuzov had been killed in eastern Ukraine, adding to the string of high-ranking military casualties sustained by Moscow.