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Ukraine says Russia committing few troops to Avdiivka battle

(Reuters) – Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that Russia’s military appeared to be sending fewer troops and less equipment into the battle for the shattered eastern town of Avdiivka, seen as a gateway to the capital city of Donetsk region.

Ukrainian military spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun said there were fewer ground assaults and fewer air strikes on Avdiivka, a town with a pre-war population of about 32,000 which has been under Russian attack for more than a month. About 1,500 residents remain.

“Russian occupying forces have reduced the number of ground and air attacks, though they still violate the rules of war by shooting at medical teams and evacuation vehicles,” Shtupun told national television. Russia denies such allegations.

“The invaders are not abandoning their plans to surround Avdiivka. Eight attacks were repelled today.”

The head of Avdiivka’s military administration, Vitaliy Barabash, said fighting was gripping an industrial district and Ukrainian forces were holding their positions. Major fortifications were erected after Russian-funded separatists briefly seized Avdiivka in 2014.

“The enemy continues to press on our boys,” he told NV Radio. “The main focus for them is drones. And drones again.”

Ukraine’s military said there also had been an uptick in the number of Russian attacks on nearby Maryinka, a town where control has been disputed for months.

Russia rarely mentions Avdiivka in its daily military updates. The Russian defence ministry’s latest update mentioned that its troops were attacking villages south of Avdiivka, but gave few details.

Reuters was unable to verify accounts from either side.

Ukraine’s eastern regions remain the focus of Russia’s slow advance in nearly 21 months of war after Moscow’s troops failed to move on the capital Kyiv in the days following the invasion.

In the south, Russian forces also made missile strikes on port infrastructure in the Black Sea city of Odesa, regional officials said. There were no details of the damage inflicted.

In southern Kherson region, Russia’s Defence Ministry said marines were “stopping all attempts by the Armed Forces of Ukraine to carry out amphibious landings on the Dnipro islands and the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro River”.

Pro-Russian bloggers said Russian forces had been harrying Ukrainian forces near the village of Krynky, near marshes on the eastern bank upriver from the city of Kherson.

Russia withdrew its forces from the city and the western bank of the Dnipro late last year, but have been shelling Ukrainian-held localities from positions on the opposite bank.

Ukrainian military analyst Pavlo Norozhny told NV radio that Kyiv’s forces had established a beachhead at Krynky and were advancing on the larger town of Oleshky to the south.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Oleksandr Kozhukhar; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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