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Russian armoured assaults ramp up pressure on Ukraine’s east

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Service members of the Ukrainian Joint Assault Brigade Fury fire a S60 cannon towards Russian troops near the front-line town of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region

Ukraine’s army chief said on Saturday the situation on the eastern front had deteriorated in recent days with Russia intensifying its armoured assaults and battles raging for control of a village west of the devastated city of Bakhmut.

The statement by Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi more than two years since Russia’s invasion evoked the increasingly grim mood in Kyiv as vital U.S. military aid that Kyiv expected to receive months ago remains stuck in Congress.

Syrskyi said he travelled to the embattled area to stabilise the front as Russian assault groups using tanks and armoured personnel carriers took advantage of a period of dry, warm weather that was making it easier for them to manoeuvre.

“The situation on the eastern front in recent days has grown considerably more tense. This is linked primarily to the significant activisation of offensive action by the enemy after the presidential elections in Russia,” he wrote on the Telegram app.

Since President Vladimir Putin won a new term in a stage-managed mid-March election, Russia has stepped up its attacks on Ukraine and unleashed three massive aerial strikes on its energy system, pounding power stations and substations.

The slowdown in military assistance from the West has left Ukraine more exposed to aerial attacks and more outgunned on the battlefield. Kyiv has made increasingly desperate appeals for supplies of air defence missiles in recent weeks.

Moscow’s forces, Syrskyi said, were taking significant losses during their attacks in the east, but were also sometimes making tactical gains.

Social media channels reported the fall of Ukraine’s eastern village of Bohdanivka to the west of Bakhmut, prompting Kyiv’s defence ministry to deny them on Saturday, while acknowledging fierce fighting in the area.

“Enemy assault groups reached outside the outskirts of the place at night. Bohdanivka is now under the control of the defence forces,” it said.

The village lies to the northeast of the town of Chasiv Yar, a Kyiv-controlled stronghold that Russia has been trying to reach after seizing the town of Avdiivka in February to the south.

Syrskyi said Russian armoured assault groups were attacking Kyiv’s positions on the fronts of Lyman and Bakhmut, while using dozens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers to try to break through lines on Pokrovsk front.

The Ukrainian military chief said only a technological advantage over Russia in sophisticated weapons would allow Kyiv “to seize the strategic initiative” from a better equipped and larger foe.

He called for better training for soldiers and in particular infantry, a clear reference to Ukraine’s manpower challenges.

Ukraine’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday to overhaul how the armed forces draft civilians into the ranks. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also signed legislation last week lowering the draft age from 27 to 25.

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