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Ukrainian forces are closing in on Kreminna, a heavily defended city in the east of the country that could help Ukraine retake a key area.

Currently, the region is almost entirely occupied by Russia.

Ukraine’s campaign to retake Kreminna in the Luhansk region began in the fall, when its forces retook the town of Lyman in neighboring Donetsk region and pushed Russian forces back into the east towards the border of his country. The two regions, which make up the area called Donbas, are home to Russia-backed self-proclaimed breakaway republics and were among four regions illegally annexed by Russia in September.

In recent months, there have been a series of battles and artillery duels over highways and small settlements around Kreminna and further north-west in the town of Svatove. Russian forces took over both early in their 10-month invasion of Ukraine.

Recapturing the two cities, and a third, Starobilsk, could allow Ukrainian forces to continue their advance toward the Russian border and recapture more territory held by Moscow. It would also give Ukraine control of a triangle of roads giving access to two larger cities further south, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which fell to Russia over the summer.

On Tuesday, Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian regional governor of Luhansk, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app: “The Russians understand that if they lose Kreminna, their entire line of defense will ‘fall’.”

A day before, Mr. Haidai said that in response to military pressure, part of the Russian command in the city had retreated to the town of Rubizhne, a few miles to the southeast, although it was not possible to verify the claim.

In his late-night speech on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said of the battle zones: “The occupiers are using all available resources – and these are significant resources – to squeeze out at least some progress.” .

There was no independent confirmation of developments on the battlefield, but Vitali Kiselyov, a senior official in the Russian-backed breakaway republic of Lugansk, told Russian state television on Monday that the situation around Kreminna and Svatove remained “very tense”.

Fighting continued in some parts of these regions on Tuesday. In the southern Kherson region, a Russian artillery strike damaged a critical infrastructure facility, a kindergarten and an emergency medical aid station, although no casualties were reported, write the regional governor, Yaroslav Yanushevych, on Telegram.

In recent weeks, Russian forces have built a series of defensive barriers near Kreminna and other parts of Ukraine’s irregular front. Pontoon bridges over the Siversky Donets River, which runs through northern Luhansk, have also been cut, the province’s military administration told Telegram on Monday.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said that after losing the city of Kherson and suffering other territorial setbacks, Russia was massing its forces north of Luhansk for a offensive that would aim to extend its control in the region. . and then potentially push into Kharkiv province.

To that end, the institute said, Russia is prioritizing the mobilization of troops to defend Kreminna and Svatove over operations in other parts of Donbas. The institute cited Ukrainian military reports of increased Russian troop movements, military equipment and ammunition in the area.

He said, however, that short-term Russian success seemed unlikely given the difficult terrain and the “very limited” offensive capabilities of Moscow’s forces.

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