Russian forces have had some success in the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian military officials said on Wednesday evening, adding that their fighters were still holding on in a battle that has lasted several months.
In southern Ukraine, the United Nations nuclear watchdog chief said he was putting aside plans for a security zone around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia power plant so he could propose specific protection measures acceptable to both Moscow and Kyiv.
The mining city of Bakhmut and surrounding towns in the eastern industrial region of Donetsk have been the focal point of assault for much of the 13-month-long invasion by Russia of neighbouring Ukraine. Neither side yet has full control with heavy losses suffered by both.
“Enemy forces had a degree of success in their actions aimed at storming the city of Bakhmut,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its regular nighttime report. “Our defenders are holding the city and are repelling numerous enemy attacks.”
The average number of daily Russian attacks on the front line reported by Ukraine’s general staff has declined for four straight weeks since the start of March, to 69 in the past seven days from 124 in the week of March 1-7. Just 57 attacks were reported on Wednesday.
Reuters journalists near the front lines west of Bakhmut and further north also reported a notable decline in the intensity of Russian attacks last week.
Russian officials say their forces are still capturing ground in street-by-street fighting inside Bakhmut.
RUSHING FROM ‘PLACE TO PLACE’
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov, who has served in the military, said that while the offensive remained intense, “the conclusion is that Russian troops are beginning to rush about from place to place.”
“It now appears that the enemy has shifted its focus to the city itself – that is where the heaviest fighting is now taking place,” Zhdanov said in a YouTube video. Zhdanov, as did the general staff statement, said Ukrainian fighters are still holding Bakhmut.
Britain’s defence ministry this week described the progress of Russian forces as “marginal” and on Wednesday, the U.S. top general Mark Milley told lawmakers that for the past 20 to 21 days, Russia’s troops had not made any progress in and around Bakhmut.
The Zaporizhzhia power station was captured by Russian troops in the opening weeks of the war a year ago and attempts to reduce fighting and shelling around it have failed despite fears of a nuclear disaster.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on a repeat visit to the plant on Wednesday, told Russian reporters: “It is obvious that military activity is increasing in this whole region. So the plant can’t be protected.”
On Tuesday Grossi told Reuters he was pressing on with efforts to find a security solution for what is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
“I am not giving up in any way. I think on the contrary we need to multiply our efforts, we need to continue,” he said.
SHELLING IN ZAPORIZHZHIA
The plant was a prized part of Ukraine’s energy network and accounted for around 20% of national power generation before the invasion. It has not produced any electricity since September, when the last of its six reactors was taken offline.
Russian forces shelled towns in central Zaporizhzhia region, including the contested centre of Hulyaipole, the Ukrainian general staff statement said. It said there was renewed shelling of Kherson city in the south, along with other towns on the west bank of the Dnipro River that bisects the country.
The Ukrainian Air Force destroyed a Russian Su-24M bomber, the statement said. Rocket and artillery in the past 24 hours struck two areas of concentration of Russian forces, an ammunition depot and two fuel depots, it said.
What Moscow has called a “special military operation” to reduce a threat to its own security has killed thousands of troops on both sides, tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and displaced millions. The invasion also shook the global economy and disrupted international relations.
The UK, the United States and European allies of Ukraine have provided the Kyiv government with weapons and money, describing the invasion as an imperial-style land grab by Russia.
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Olema Harmash, Tom Balmforth, Ron Popeski and David Ljunggren; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Cynthia Osterman