- By Jaroslav Loukiv
- BBC News
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his troops had taken control of the key town of Mariinka in eastern Ukraine, a claim immediately denied by kyiv.
Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that the assault units had captured the “strongly fortified” area just outside Donetsk, a Russian-controlled regional capital.
But Ukrainian army spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said “the fighting for Mariinka” continued.
Mariinka, considered the gateway to Donetsk, was almost completely destroyed.
The head of Ukraine’s air force said warplanes destroyed the Novocherkassk landing ship in the early hours of Tuesday.
In a televised meeting with President Putin on Monday, Shoigu said: “Assault detachments of the Southern group today completely liberated the Mariinka settlement, located five kilometers southwest of Donetsk.
“For nine years, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have formed a powerful fortified zone, connected by underground passages. Each street has its own structures that are well fortified and quite well protected against all attacks, both air and artillery, for a long time -posts future shooting, complex underground communication systems.
“Thanks to the decisive actions of our military, the fortified zone has been cracked.”
Mr Putin hailed the reported capture as a “success”, saying Ukrainian troops had now been pushed further away from Donetsk, which they regularly bombarded from Mariinka.
The Kremlin leader also said Russian forces now had “the opportunity to move into a wider operational zone” in the Donetsk region.
Later on Monday, the Ukrainian military denied the Russian claims.
It is “inaccurate to say that Mariinka is completely seized,” Mr. Chtoupun told Ukrainian television.
“Our soldiers are currently within the administrative borders of Mariinka,” added the military spokesperson.
Ukrainian military bloggers reported earlier that Ukrainian troops were resisting in a small area in western Mariinka.
The city has been used by Ukraine as a defensive barrier since 2014, when Russian-backed fighters seized large swathes of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
President Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
In recent weeks, Russian forces have stepped up attacks in several key areas of a battlefront more than 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) long.
Alongside Mariinka, they attempted to encircle Avdiivka, another key town near Donetsk.
Ukrainian forces are seeking to expand their bridgehead on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country’s army planned to mobilize up to 500,000 additional personnel.
His comments come as Ukraine faces an ammunition shortage due to a decline in aid from its key allies the United States and the EU.
kyiv’s counter-offensive stalled at the start of winter and there are fears that the Russians may simply overtake Ukraine in terms of power.
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