Russia says it takes Ukrainian village, Ukraine notes increased Russian activity

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian servicemen move past a burning car hit by a kamikaze drone outside the front line town of Avdiivka

(Reuters) - Russia's military said on Wednesday that its forces had captured a village in a contested area of eastern Ukraine, while Ukrainian officials offered no comment but said Moscow's forces were suffering heavy losses while launching fierce attacks.

Russia's armed forces have focused on eastern Donetsk region after failing at the outset of the 21-month-old conflict to advance on Kyiv. But their progress has been slow.

Ukraine regained large chunks of territory a year ago, but a new counteroffensive launched in June has made only incremental gains in the east and south.

Russia's Defence Ministry said its forces had captured Khromove, a village on the western approaches to Bakhmut, seized in May by Russian forces after months of heavy fighting reduced it to ruins. The village, known to Russians as Artyomovskoe, had a pre-war population of about 1,000.

There was no mention of the villages in official Ukrainian accounts of Wednesday's fighting in an area that Ukrainian forces have been trying to secure for weeks.

Unofficial accounts and bloggers acknowledged that part of the village was held by Russian forces, but dismissed any notion it was fully under Russian control.

Russian forces have also focused efforts since mid-October on seizing the equally devastated town of Avdiivka, seen as a gateway to the Russian-held regional centre of Donetsk, 20 km (12 miles) to the east.

Reuters was unable to confirm accounts from either side.

Oleksandr Shtupun, a Ukrainian military spokesperson, said Russian front line shelling and air strikes had doubled following an end to several days of rain.

Shtupun told national television that Russian troops were sending waves of up to 20 armoured vehicles at a time in attempting to move on Ukrainian lines.

"Ukraine's defence forces, in repelling Russian assaults, are destroying a significant amount of armoured military equipment," he said.

He also said Russian forces were trying to move forward further south in Zaporizhzhia region - near two towns on which Ukrainian forces had focused in their counteroffensive - Robotyne, held by Ukraine and Verbove, under Russian control.

Military analyst Serhiy Zgurets, writing on the website of Ukrainian news outlet Espreso TV, said the number of front line combat clashes was at its highest level in a month.

"We can assume that after the end of the main phase of Ukrainian offensive action near Zaporizhzhia, the Russians are trying to seize the initiative," he wrote on the website of Ukrainian media outlet Espreso TV.

"Occupying troops, despite colossal losses, are trying to put pressure on our defences in different sectors."

He noted, in particular, a new Russian attempt to move on the town of Kupiansk, seized by Russian troops in the early days of the war but retaken a year ago by Ukrainian forces. Russian forces, he said, were now within 9 km of the town.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Oleksandr Kozhukhar; Editing by Daniel Wallis)