KYIV (Reuters) -Russia is aiming to break through Ukrainian defences in the northeastern Kupiansk-Lyman area after a sharp increase in fighting, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces said on Monday.
Footage released by Ukraine’s ground forces showed their commander, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, meeting troops at an undisclosed location in a wooded area. It quoted him as saying fighting in Kupiansk-Lyman had “significantly escalated”.
“The enemy is preparing, seriously preparing for offensive actions, bringing in staff,” Syrskyi said in the footage posted on the Telegram messaging app. “The main goal is to break through our troops’ defences and recapture our territory.”
Retaking the towns of Kupiansk and Lyman last year near Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv was a key step in the Ukrainian military’s drive to evicting Russian troops from some parts of the country’s Donbas industrial heartland.
Russia’s Defence Ministry acknowledged intense military activity in the area, saying its troops had repelled 10 Ukrainian attacks in the Kupiansk area and two more in adjacent Lyman.
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern forces said Russian forces in the Kupiansk area were encountering stiff resistance from well-entrenched troops and had been forced to retreat.
“Our fortifications there are quite reliable. We have a powerful, dug-in position,” Ilia Yevlash told Ukrainian television. “So the enemy got it right in the teeth and retreated in order to regroup.”
Ukraine launched a counter-offensive in June focusing on retaking ground in the east, mainly around Bakhmut, which was seized by Russian forces in May, and on pushing south to the Sea of Azov.
The Ukrainian military has registered mainly incremental gains, but has dismissed some Western critics who say the offensive is moving too slowly.
LULL IN AVDIIVKA
The focus on the eastern front has shifted in the past week from Bakhmut to Avdiivka, a town further southwest known for its large coking plant.
The top local official in Avdiivka said a lull had taken hold in the city, but predicted a new onslaught soon.
“Shelling has diminished, there was less today,” Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military administration, told national television, while noting two people were killed in a nearby village.
“We expect there will be new waves of heavy attacks in the days to come.”
The town, like Bakhmut, is largely destroyed. Strategically important, Avdiivka is located about 20 km (12 miles) west of Donetsk, the region’s main city, held by Russian forces since 2014.
Ukraine’s general staff, in its evening report, reported heavy fighting in other areas, saying its forces had beaten back 16 attacks near the long-contested town of Maryinka, also west of Donetsk, and three more near Bakhmut.
(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa; Writing by Olena Harmash; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Ron Popeski and Rod Nickel)