Zelenskiy says Ukrainian forces holding line, Russia claims advance

(Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces were maintaining their positions on the front line in the east after Russia reported it was advancing on its main target in the area.

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Russia, trying to secure full control of two eastern provinces forming Ukraine’s Donbas industrial region, has launched repeated assaults, securing its biggest gains around the mining city of Bakhmut. Ukrainian and Western officials say pro-Moscow forces have lost thousands of men.

“It is very important that despite great pressure on our forces, the front line has undergone no change,” Zelenskiy said in a nightly video address following detailed reports from the front at a meeting of Ukraine’s military command.

Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions were doing everything possible to contain enemy attacks, “with Russia not letting up at all despite sustaining staggering losses,” he said.

Russian troops trying to take Avdiivka, the second focal point of attacks in Donetsk region, were even using tear gas grenades, he said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces were advancing on Bakhmut -- devastated after months of bombardment but seen by the Kremlin as a key staging post in capturing other towns further west in Donetsk region.

“In the last two days alone, there was an advance of more than 2.5 km (1.5 miles) by attack units on entrenched Ukrainian positions in the area of Artyomovsk,” the ministry said, referring to Bakhmut by its Soviet-era name used in Russia.

Ukrainian military analysts have reported incremental gains by Russian forces of hundreds of metres at a time, with fighting spilling over into parts of the city.

The protracted fight to secure control over Bakhmut has prompted a lively public debate within Ukraine over whether it is worthwhile to maintain its defence of a city with limited strategic importance.

Zelenskiy acknowledged in an interview last week that there might come a time when mounting losses might make it impractical to keep defending a city where only 5,000 residents of its pre-war population of 70,000 remain.

Reporting by Ron Popeski and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Chris Reese, David Ljunggren and Daniel Wallis