A senior Ukrainian official said, on Wednesday, that the Ukrainian defenders fought desperately to counter a major Russian attack in the Donetsk region, where the enemy threw heavy artillery fire to clear the way for ground forces to advance.
After Russian forces on Sunday took control of Lyschansk, the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the Ukrainian army prepared for an attack on Donetsk, with the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in the Russian line of fire.
Donetsk and Luhansk consist of Donbass, the industrial eastern part of Ukraine that has seen Europe’s largest battle for generations.
Heavy fighting erupted on the outskirts of Luhansk region, Serhiy Haiday, the governor of the Luhansk region, told Ukrainian television, adding that the Russian regular army and reserve forces had been sent there in an apparent attempt to cross the Seversky Donets River.
Hayday said earlier that Russian forces were engaged in large-scale bombing when they launched their offensive on Donetsk.
Russia says it wants to wrest control of all of Donbass from Ukraine on behalf of Moscow-backed separatists in two self-proclaimed people’s republics.
Local officials said that on Tuesday, Russian forces bombed a market and a residential area in Sloviansk, killing at least two people and wounding seven.
A Reuters reporter at the scene saw yellow smoke rising from a car supply store and flames engulfing rows of market stalls as firefighters tried to put out the flames.
Donetsk region governor Pavlo Kirilenko said Sloviansk and nearby Kramatorsk suffered heavy shelling overnight. “There is no safe place without bombing in the Donetsk region.”