(Reuters) – Ukrainian troops made headway in the eastern theatre of their counteroffensive to oust Russian occupying forces but are under pressure further north, Ukrainian officials said on Thursday.
Russian forces backed by Su-35 attack aircraft had started attacking along the front line in the direction of Makiivka in the Luhansk region, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern group of forces said.
“The most difficult area is the Lyman-Kupiansk sector,” the spokesperson, Ilia Yevlash, told Ukrainian television, referring to two towns recaptured by Ukrainian troops late last year but still subject to Russian assaults.
“The intensity of assaults there has increased … The enemy has chosen a new point – Makiivka – and is directing all its main efforts into this direction. Of course, we are also repulsing enemy attacks and inflicting damage on forces and equipment.”
Fighting has flared up periodically near Lyman and Kupiansk and Ukraine says Russia has redeployed more than 110,000 troops to the area.
A Russian missile struck a store and an adjacent cafe on Thursday in the village of Hroza, west of Kupiansk, killing 51 people as residents attended a service for a fallen Ukrainian soldier.
Also in the east, Ukrainian forces are battling to regain ground near the devastated city of Bakhmut, seized by Russian forces in May after months of fighting.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, in its evening report, said Kyiv’s forces had “achieved success” south of Andriivka – a village south of Bakhmut captured by Ukrainian troops last month in Donetsk region.
The report said Russian forces had unsuccessfully tried to regain lost positions in an area further south.
Russian accounts of the fighting said Moscow’s forces had repelled two Ukrainian attacks west of the Russian-held city of Donetsk.
Reuters was unable to independently verify reports of battlefield activity from either side.
In the southern theatre, Kyiv’s forces are pushing toward the Sea of Azov in an attempt to split Russian-occupied territory in two.
The Ukrainian General Staff said its forces were pressing on with their southward advance in the Zaporizhzhia region and had repelled a Russian attack near the village of Robotyne.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has acknowledged that the counteroffensive is proceeding more slowly than the military would like, but has dismissed Western criticism that Kyiv’s strategy.
(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by Stephen Coates)