Ukraine claims to have recaptured part of the key factory city of Sievierodonetsk and said it could hold the territory for up to a fortnight as fighting rages on in the east of the country.
Sergiy Gaidai, the governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk province, told national television on Friday that Ukrainian troops had retaken 20 per cent of the territory they had lost in Sievierodonetsk.
Russia had “previously managed to capture most of the city”, he said, “but now our military has pushed them back. They are really suffering huge losses”.
The industrial city in the Donbas has been the focus of Russian attacks in the east of Ukraine for the past few weeks. It is now largely in ruins after fierce street-by-street fighting.
However, Mr Gaidai said it was “not realistic” that Sievierodonetsk would fall in the next fortnight even though Russian reinforcements were being deployed.
“They are moving forward step-by-step. They are simply destroying everything with artillery, aircraft, mortars, tanks,” he said.
“But as soon as we have enough Western long-range weapons, we will push their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry, they will just run.”
Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russia had reinforced its troops and had used artillery to conduct “assault operations” in Sievierodonetsk.
However, it added that Vladimir Putin’s troops had been forced to retreat after failed attempts to advance in the nearby town of Bakhmut and cut off access to Sievierodonetsk.
Regaining territory in the region will mark only a marginal victory for Ukraine as Russia continues to step up its attacks on the Donbas.
Mr Gaidai said the situation in the region as a whole remained “difficult”, with Sievierodonetsk “now just a concentration of hostilities” because the Russian army “is throwing all its reserves into this direction”.
It comes as the UK’s Ministry of Defence said on Saturday that a Russian focus on airstrikes over eastern Ukraine had swung the pendulum in favour of the Kremlin in recent weeks.
In an intelligence update, the MoD said Russia has been able to “increase its employment of tactical air to support its creeping advance, combining air strikes and massed artillery fires to bring its overwhelming firepower to bear.”
The ministry added that “the combined use of air and artillery strikes has been a key factor in Russia’s recent tactical successes in the region”.
Russian troops now occupy a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, according to Agence France-Presse, with Moscow also imposing a blockade on its Black Sea ports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has remained defiant, insisting in a video address issued on Friday that “victory shall be ours”.
“The armed forces of Ukraine are here. Most importantly, our people, the people of our country, are here. We have been defending Ukraine for 100 days already… Glory to Ukraine,” he added.