Ukrainian troops face new Russian assault on eastern town of Avdiivka

(Corrects spelling of Avdiivka in headline)

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops are facing a new Russian onslaught in the largely destroyed eastern city of Avdiivka, while making some progress on their counteroffensive in the southern theatre, senior military officials said on Thursday.

General Valery Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, posted a video on Telegram in which he appeared to be conferring with officers in Avdiivka and in Kupiansk, a town further north where Russian forces have intensified attacks in recent weeks.

“The enemy is not relenting in attempts to break through our defences and surround (Avdiivka),” Zaluzhniy wrote in a commentary attached to the video.

“The enemy is actively bringing in assault units and large amounts of armoured equipment and using aircraft and artillery.”

Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesperson for the southern group of Ukrainian forces, told national television there was constant pressure on Avdiivka, about 20 km (12 miles) west of the Russian-held city of Donetsk.

“They regrouped and launched new assaults there,” he said.

Russian forces subjected Avdiivka to fierce attacks last week, but the shelling had tapered off in the last few days.

Avdiivka has become a watchword for Ukrainian resistance. The town, known for its large coking plant, held out in 2014 against Russian-backed separatists who secured swathes of eastern Ukraine and it.

And like Bakhmut to the northeast, captured by Russian forces in May, it has endured months of attacks since Russia’s full-scale February 2022 invasion. Officials say some 1,600 residents remain from a pre-war population of 32,000.

Kupiansk was recaptured by Ukrainian troops late last year in a lighting advance through the country’s northeast, but Russian forces have stepped up attacks in a bid to retake it.

Zaluzhniy said Ukrainian forces around Kupiansk were “maintaining their defence in the most difficult of conditions”.

Russia’s accounts of the fighting said its forces had destroyed a command point near Avdiivka and repelled 11 Ukrainian attacks near Kupiansk.

Spokesperson Shtupun said Ukrainian troops engaged in the country’s four-month-old counteroffensive had made a degree of headway in the southern theatre, where they are trying to advance to the Sea of Azov to sever a land bridge linking Russian positions in the east and south.

He said troops had advanced 400 metres (a quarter mile) to the southwest of the village of Verbove in Zaporizhzhia region.

Verbove is a few kilometres east of Robotyne, a village recaptured by Ukraine last month in the southward drive.

The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank and non-profit research group, said Ukrainian forces appeared to have broken through on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in the southern Kherson region. Kyiv did not comment on the report.

When Ukrainian troops retook parts of Kherson region last year, Russian forces abandoned its biggest city, also called Kherson. They now shell the city from the opposite bank.

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of Avdiivka in the headline)

(Reporting by Olena Harmash and Ronald Popeski; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Lincoln Feast)