LONDON (Reuters) – Russian-backed separatist forces in Ukraine said on Monday they had taken a village beside the main southern road towards the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, over which Russian and Ukrainian forces have been fighting for weeks.
Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have suffered significant losses in the battle for Sievierodonetsk, which is in one of the two self-proclaimed breakaway regions Russia says it launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February to defend.
Vitaly Kiselev, an assistant to the self-styled interior minister of the Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), was quoted by TASS new agency as saying the village of Toshkivka, about 25 km south of Sievierodonetsk, had been taken.
The governor of the Ukrainian region of Luhansk, Serhiy Gaidai, told Ukrainian television that pro-Russian forces were trying to break through the lines of Toshkivka.
Ukraine’s general staff said on Sunday Ukrainian forces had repelled heavy fighting near Toshkivka and a number of other villages around Sievierdonetsk.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield claims of either side.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday Russian forces had taken Metyolkine, a district on Sievierodonetsk’s eastern outskirts. Gaidai said Ukraine was no longer in control of Metyolkine.
Since the Feb. 24 start of the invasion, Russia has scaled back the ambitions of its war, pulling back troops from around the capital Kyiv and focusing on pushing out Ukrainian troops from the eastern Donbas region.
(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Heinrich)