Russia said Friday it had repelled Ukrainian attacks along a 95-kilometer (60-mile) stretch of the eastern front near the town of Bakhmut, as an anticipated Ukrainian offensive looms.
The announcement of the apparent large-scale Ukrainian push on Moscow-occupied territory came as Ukraine claimed significant gains in Bakhmut and after Moscow denied that Kyiv had made any breakthroughs.
“In the tactical direction of Soledar, the enemy yesterday carried out offensive operations along the entire line of contact, which is more than 95 kilometers long,” the defense ministry said.
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It added that Ukraine had deployed “more than 1,000 military personnel and up to 40 tanks.”
“All the attacks of the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been repelled,” the defense ministry added.
AFP could not verify these claims with independent sources.
Soledar fell to Russian forces at the end of January after being virtually razed to the ground. It is around 15 kilometers northeast of Bakhmut, the current epicenter of fighting.
A Ukrainian offensive has been in preparation for months, with the front largely frozen since last year and the bulk of fighting taking place around Bakhmut.
Earlier on Friday Ukraine reported a two-kilometer gain in Bakhmut.
The head of the Wagner private military group spearheading Moscow’s attack on Bakhmut, Yevgeny Prigozhin, also said Kyiv had made “successful counterattacks.”
Without mentioning a retreat, the Russian army said it had redeployed units north of Bakhmut, near Berkhovskoye reservoir, to “increase the strength of the line of defense.”
The social media accounts of several Russian war correspondents late Thursday spread alarm, with some of them saying Kyiv’s long-anticipated counteroffensive had begun.
Russia denied Ukraine made any breakthroughs, saying reports of territorial losses do “not correspond to reality.”