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Russian forces step up strikes on two key Ukrainian cities


An armoured military vehicle speeds through Chasiv Yar during heavy fighting at the fronttline of Bakhmut and Chasiv Yar, Ukraine, April 9, 2023. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Russia’s forces kept up a barrage of attacks along the front concentrated in two Ukrainian cities in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine’s military reported, as Kyiv said it repelled more than 40 enemy strikes over the past 24 hours.

Fighting was heaviest along the western approaches to Bakhmut, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Sunday, one of the two cities in the east, along with Avdiivka, that Russia’s military has been targeting.

Russian forces have been besieging Bakhmut for months in the longest battle in more than a year of war.

In a nightly weekend video address, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy denounced Russian air strikes coinciding with the observance of Orthodox Palm Sunday, saying Moscow was further isolating itself from the world.

Ukraine’s State Emergencies Service said a 50-year-old man and his daughter, 11, were killed after Russian forces struck a residential building in Zaporizhzhia, in the southeast.

A woman identified as the wife and mother of the victims was pulled from under the rubble.

“This is how the terrorist state marks Palm Sunday,” Zelenskiy said in his address. “This is how Russia places itself in even greater isolation from the world.”

He praised several units defending positions in the east and said he hoped Palm Sunday next year “will take place with peace and freedom for all our people”.

The majority of Ukraine’s 41 million people are Orthodox Christians who celebrate Easter a week from now.

Pope Francis, who has been critical of Russia’s war, prayed for peace during Easter events in the Vatican: “Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia.”

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had destroyed a depot with 70,000 tonnes of fuel near Zaporizhzhia.

The forces had destroyed Ukrainian army warehouses storing missiles, ammunition and artillery in the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk, the ministry added.

Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

More than 40 enemy attacks had been repelled over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s general staff said.

It said Russian forces had launched unsuccessful advances on areas west of Bakhmut, now largely destroyed but with a pre-war population of 70,000. At least 10 towns and villages had come under Russian shelling.

The report said Russian forces also made no headway in attacks on Avdiivka, the second focus of fighting in the east, and reported widespread Russian shelling in northern regions.

“In central Zaporizhzhia and southern Kherson region, enemy forces continued to build fortifications,” it said. “Several towns were shelled.”

Officials in the south said Russian aircraft had used guided bombs against towns in the Kherson region.

The military have said Ukrainian forces will keep defending Bakhmut against repeated Russian attacks, though Zelenskiy last week acknowledged that if troops risked being encircled they could be pulled back.

“The enemy is trying to take our city-fortress at any cost,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, said on national television.

“Although it is extremely difficult, we are still in control of the situation. Our units are holding back the enemy and inflicting a maximum of damage.”

Control of Bakhmut could allow Russia to directly target Ukrainian defensive lines in Chasiv Yar in the east, and open the way for its forces to advance on two bigger cities it has long coveted in the Donetsk region: Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Russian forces controlled the centre of Bakhmut, with much of their actions now focusing on the city’s railway station.

“There is heavy fighting in the city centre and the enemy is gradually moving toward the western outskirts,” Zhdanov said.