(Reuters) – Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Monday Russia is preparing to launch a fresh assault in eastern Ukraine to try to take the city of Kharkiv and encircle Ukraine’s heavily fortified eastern frontline.
Russia was attacking the towns of Rubizhne and Popasna in Luhansk region to lay the way for an assault on the regional capital of Severodonetsk and also massing forces to capture the besieged port of Mariupol, defence ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said.
Reuters could not confirm the reports and Motuzyanyk did not provide any evidence to back up his account.
Severodonetsk and Mariupol lie at the northernmost and southernmost ends of Ukraine’s several-hundred kilometre “line of contact”, the ceasefire line that Ukrainian forces have held against Russian-backed separatist forces in Donbas since 2015.
Motuzyanyk said Russian units were moving out of Belarus and into Russia, and Moscow was readying fuel and ammunition stockpiles in areas bordering east Ukraine.
Russia was also preparing medical facilities for a potential influx of casualties among its troops, he said at a briefing.
(Reporting by Max Hunder; Editing by Andrew Heavens)