Fierce fighting persists in Ukraine’s east as Kyiv reports nonstop assaults by Russia on a key city

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian officials reported intense combat, characterized by relentless assaults by Russian forces, as the ongoing attack on an eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka entered its fifth consecutive day on Saturday.

“The enemy has not stopped either assaulting or shelling positions” around Avdiivka, city head Vitalii Barabash said on Ukrainian television.

Barabash also reported that Moscow was deploying additional forces to encircle the strategically important city in the eastern Donetsk region, situated just north of the Moscow-held regional capital, also called Donetsk.

Around 1,600 civilians remain within the city, a stark contrast to its prewar population of about 31,000.

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Barabash’s comments came after Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday that the intensified attacks in the east amounted to a new stage in Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine.

“Russian troops have, for several days now, switched over to active combat action practically throughout the entire front line … The so-called Ukrainian counteroffensive can therefore be considered finished,” he said.

But Ukrainian President Voloydymr Zelenskyy said earlier this week that Ukrainian forces were keeping Russian troops at bay and “holding our ground.”

Further north, fighting along the northern stretch of Ukraine’s eastern front has “significantly worsened” in recent days, Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s land forces, wrote on Facebook Saturday.

Syrskyi, who visited troops in the area, said that Russian forces had regrouped following losses and were mounting attacks around the village of Makiivka and pushing towards the city of Kupiansk, with the goal of encircling Kupiansk and reaching the Oskil River.

Also on Saturday, a 60-year-old woman was killed in Russian shelling of the city of Beryslav in Ukraine’s partly-occupied Kherson region.

In Russia, the country’s Defense Ministry said air defense systems shot down two Ukrainian drones over the Black Sea near the southern resort city Sochi on Saturday morning. Ukrainian officials have never acknowledged responsibility for attacks on Russian territory.