'We're holding on', says deputy mayor of besieged Ukrainian city

By Joseph Campbell

BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) - Residents of the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut are living in dire conditions, with civilians killed and wounded daily, the deputy mayor said on Saturday, as fighting between Russian troops and Ukraine's forces rages around the city.

Bakhmut has been an important target for Russia's military in its slow advance through the Donetsk region, one of the territories the Kremlin claims to have annexed after what Kyiv and the West say were sham referendums in September.

Kyiv's military says the area is the site of some of the heaviest fighting with Russian forces, and deputy mayor Oleksandr Marchenko told Reuters that Russia's troops were "trying to storm the city from several directions".

Reuters could not independently confirm his account of the battlefield situation.

"With every day it's becoming harder and harder to survive in this city," Marchenko said from inside an empty government building as mortar fire boomed nearby.

Video: Bakhmut residents scramble to collect aid amid shelling

He said more than 120 civilians have been killed in Bakhmut since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion.

"There are districts where we don't know the exact number of people killed because active fighting is ongoing there or the settlements are temporarily occupied (by Russian forces)," he added.

Ukrainian troops are "firmly holding the frontline", Marchenko said, while describing a deteriorating humanitarian situation facing the city, where the population has fallen from its pre-war level of about 80,000 to as low as 12,000 today.

It has already been without electricity, gas and running water for nearly two months.

Marchenko said local citizens still venture out to shop, collect humanitarian aid or gather water despite being urged to evacuate. He added that the winter would be most difficult for the elderly and infirm.

"We're holding on and hoping that the armed forces of Ukraine will be able to repel the enemy further from the city," he said.

(Reporting by Joseph Campbell in Bakhmut; Writing by Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv; Editing by Helen Popper)