The Commercial Appeal

Russia pushes advance on Bakhmut

- Samya Kullab and Yuras Karmanau

KYIV, Ukraine – Fierce battles raged outside Bakhmut as Russian forces pushed their advance on the eastern city with heavy shelling and infantry attacks, Ukraine’s presidenti­al office said Monday, with at least five civilians killed and as many wounded in action across the war-torn country in the last 24 hours.

The presidenti­al office said the situation in Bakhmut’s northern suburb of Paraskovii­vka is “difficult” as Russian forces continued to pummel the area with “intense shelling and storming actions.” The nearby town of Vuhledar is also under heavy bombardmen­t.

Ukrainian soldiers began training on Leopard 2 battle tanks, Germany’s Defense Ministry spokeswoma­n Nadine

Krueger said in Berlin. Germany pledged to deliver 14 of the tanks to Ukraine by the end of March.

Secretary-general Jens Stoltenber­g again urged Ukraine’s Western allies to ramp up their military support. Asked Monday when he expects Russia’s socalled spring offensive to begin, Stoltenber­g said that “the reality is that we have seen the start already.”

“For me, this just highlights the importance of timing. It’s urgent to provide Ukraine with more weapons,” he said. Stoltenber­g said NATO sees “no sign whatsoever that President Putin is preparing for peace” and that arming Ukraine more quickly could save lives by bringing a quicker end to the conflict.

Russian forces shelled a dozen cities and villages in the Donetsk region in the last 24 hours including in Druzhkivka, where a missile hit a hospital, and in

Pokrovsk, where shelling damaged seven houses and a kindergart­en.

“The shelling intensifie­s, and the Russians accumulate more forces for an attack on peaceful cities,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said. “We’re seeing a very tough battle in which the Russians aren’t sparing neither themselves, nor us.”

In the neighborin­g Luhansk region, Russian troops pulled back after several days of intense fighting near the key city of Kreminna, although they’re not “running out of steam,” Luhansk Gov. Serhii Haidai told Ukrainian television.

In the partially occupied southern region of Kherson, artillery fire hit more than 20 cities and villages over the past 24 hours, including the regional capital of the same name that was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in November. Two men were killed in one of the villages when their car ran over a landmine.

In the neighborin­g Dnipropetr­ovsk region, Russian shelling of the city of Nikopol killed one person and wounded two others. The shelling damaged a residentia­l building, a water treatment facility and a college.

Meanwhile, the U.K. Defense Ministry said Russian forces are bolstering defensive fortificat­ions on the edge of the battlefron­t in southern Ukraine to protect their flank, despite their focus on the Donbas region.

“This is demonstrat­ed by continued constructi­on of defensive fortificat­ions in Zaporizhzh­ia and Luhansk oblasts and deployment of personnel,” the Ministry said in a briefing Monday.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued another warning to U.S. citizens not to travel to Russia for fear of harassment or detention, and urged them to leave immediatel­y if they have to travel there.

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