Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the situation near the eastern city of Baghmut was “extremely difficult” on Saturday, days after pro-Russian forces announced they were moving closer to the city.
Zelensky said in his daily address that “the very tough situation continues in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions” in the Donbass, “as difficult as in the previous days near Bakmut. We are still holding our positions.”
It comes after Russian-backed separatist forces in Ukraine’s Donetsk region said they had captured two nearby villages, Optyn and Ivangrad, on Thursday.
Russian troops have been on the offensive for weeks in hopes of capturing Bagmut, a wine-making and salt-mining town of 70,000 people.
In Chasiv Yar, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Pakmut, AFP journalists turned away from Pakmut’s front line and spoke to a soldier.
With severe physical and emotional exhaustion in his eyes, a 50-year-old soldier from the 93rd Regiment nicknamed “Polyak” recalled four days on the tense battlefield.
“I haven’t slept, eaten or drunk anything but coffee for days,” he said.
“Out of 13 people on my team, we lost two players and five were sent off,” Poliak said.
“This is our life now and we will do everything for our country,” he added, almost in tears.
For weeks Ukrainian troops have been pushing back on large swathes of territory in Ukraine’s south and east — including Donetsk — that had been controlled by Russian forces for months.