Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that the situation on the eastern front line was getting tougher, with Russia throwing more and more troops into battle to break down Ukrainian defences.
Zelenskyy’s comments on Saturday came as shelling continued in the eastern Donetsk region while an accident at a power plant in the southern region of Odesa left nearly 500,000 homes without electricity.
“I’ve often had to say the situation at the front is tough, and is getting tougher, and it’s that time again. … The invader is putting more and more of his forces into breaking down our defences,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
“It is very difficult now in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Lyman and other directions,” he continued.
Russian troops, who have been pushing for a significant battlefield victory after months of setbacks, have been trying to close their grip on the town of Bakhmut and are also trying to capture the nearby coal-mining city of Vuhledar, also in the eastern region of Donetsk.
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Earlier in the day, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Telegram that Russian efforts to break the defences in Bakhmut and Lyman had failed.
Lyman, which lies just to the north of Bakhmut, was liberated by Ukrainian forces in October.
“This week, the Russian occupation forces threw all their efforts into breaking through our defence and encircling Bakhmut, and launched a powerful offensive in the Lyman sector,” Malyar said. “But thanks to the resilience of our soldiers, they did not succeed.”
Ukraine’s border guard service reported that its soldiers killed four and wounded seven opposing forces as they fought off the latest attack.
The fighting around Bakhmut has been costly for Russia in terms of soldiers’ lives, the Kremlin admitted.
Russia’s independent news outlet Meduza reported in late January that some 40,000 of the 50,000 recruits by the powerful Wagner private military group involved in the campaign there were either dead or missing.
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Al Jazeera was not able to independently verify the reports.
Ukrainian officials meanwhile reported continued shelling in the Chernihiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and Mykolaiv regions.
They also reported recovering the bodies of two British volunteers killed trying to help evacuate people from the eastern warzone. They were identified as Chris Parry, 28, and Andrew Bagshaw, 47.
The pair died after their vehicle was reportedly hit by a shell in Soledar, in the Donetsk region, and their bodies were returned to Ukraine authorities as part of a wider exchange, in which Kyiv got 116 prisoners and Russia 63.
“We managed to return the bodies of the dead foreign volunteers,” said Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, naming them as the two British men.
In Odesa, officials reported that a fire caused by an accident at an overloaded substation had cut electricity across the southern region.
“As of today, almost 500,000 customers have no electricity supply,” said Maksym Marchenko of the Odesa regional administration. Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said that came to “about a third of consumers” there.
“The situation is complex, the scale of the accident is significant,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said on messaging app Telegram.
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Also on Saturday, Canada shipped the first of four promised Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand said on Twitter.
France, Italy and the United States have all promised new deliveries of weapons to Ukraine, and Kyiv, while expressing its gratitude for the pledged weapons, is already pressing for more, including fighter jets.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholzl meanwhile said in an interview there was agreement that weapons supplied by the West would not be used to attack Russian territory.
“There is a consensus on this point,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the weekly Bild am Sonntag.