Fighting intensifies in Ukraine’s Donbass region

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 Russian and Ukrainian forces are engaged in heavy fighting around two towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, while kyiv came under attack by Russian drones early on Monday, authorities said.

Fighting was heavy this weekend in Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up industrial Donbas, and in Kherson province in the south. They are three of the four regions that Russia said it had annexed last month after holding what it called referendums, votes that were denounced by kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.

“The key hot spots in the Donbas are Soledar and Bakhmut,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his late-night speech on Sunday. “Very intense fighting is going on there.”

Bakhmut has been a target of the Russian army in its slow advance through the region since it seized the twin industrial cities of Lisichansk and Severodonetsk in June and July. Soledar is just north of Bajmut.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that its forces had repulsed efforts by Ukrainian troops to advance into the Donetsk, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. Russia also said it was continuing airstrikes against military and energy targets in Ukraine.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports about the fighting.

Far from the front line, the Ukrainian capital kyiv came under attack on Monday by so-called kamikaze drones, Andri Yermak, the president’s chief of staff, wrote on the Telegram messaging service.

“The Russians think this will help them,” Yermak said.

kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram that several explosions had rocked kyiv’s central Shevchenko district, and a Reuters witness reported three explosions.

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The same district suffered explosions a week ago, when Russia ordered the largest-ever air offensive against Ukrainian cities in retaliation for an explosion on a bridge linking mainland Russia with Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed to Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov suggested that the heaviest fighting was taking place north of Bakhmut, claiming that Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian advances on the towns of Torske and Sprine in the past 24 hours.

“(The Russians) have decided to advance through Torske and Sprine,” Zhdanov posted online. “The positions in those places are changing hands regularly.”

The head of the Russian-backed administration in the Donetsk region said on Sunday that Ukrainian shelling had damaged the administration building in the regional capital.

“It was a direct hit, the building is seriously damaged. It’s a miracle no one was killed,” Alexei Kulemzin said, examining the wreckage, adding that all city services were still working.

Ukraine did not immediately react to the attack on the city of Donetsk, which was annexed by Russian-backed separatists in 2014, along with large parts of Donbass.

Rybar, a pro-Russian military Telegram channel, said Ukrainian forces again shelled the southwestern city of Belgorod, near Ukraine.

Anti-aircraft units intercepted most of the attacks, but there were two explosions near the airport. Three people were injured, he said.

ARMED MEN OPEN FIRE

In Russia, authorities said Sunday a criminal investigation had been opened after gunmen shot dead 11 people and wounded 15 at a military training camp in the Belgorod region.

The Russian news agency RIA, based on information from the Defense Ministry, said two gunmen opened fire with small arms during a training exercise on Saturday, targeting personnel who had volunteered to fight in Ukraine. RIA said the gunmen, whom it referred to as “terrorists”, were killed.

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The Russian Defense Ministry said the attackers came from a former Soviet republic, without giving further details. A senior Ukrainian official, Oleksi Arestovich, said the two men came from the Muslim-majority Central Asian republic of Tajikistan and had opened fire on the others after an argument about religion.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the comments by Arestovich, a leading commentator on the war, or independently verify the number of casualties and other details.

The Belgorod shooting was the latest setback to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine that began on February 24.

“THE SEA IS ON OUR SIDE”

Meanwhile, British military intelligence said Russia faced more acute logistical problems in the south following the damage caused by the Oct. 8 explosion at the road and rail bridge linking mainland Russia with Crimea.

A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said the Russian military was suffering from severe equipment shortages due to the damage to the bridge.

Nearly 75% of Russian military supplies in southern Ukraine pass through the bridge, Natalia Humeniuk told Ukrainian television, adding that strong winds had also stopped ferries in the area.

“Now even the sea is on our side,” Humeniuk said.

Russian authorities said the explosion was caused by a truck bomb. Putin has described the explosion as a “terrorist attack” orchestrated by the Ukrainian security services.

Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the explosion, but celebrated it.

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