DNIPRO, Ukraine—Russia is regrouping its forces in eastern Ukraine and launching offensives along five lines of attack, Ukraine’s armed forces said on Saturday as officials in Kyiv and Western capitals continue to warn of a major Russian push to gain territory.
The main focus of Russia’s offensive remains the besieged city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which it is seeking to surround and capture. The Ukrainian military said it had repelled multiple attacks, inflicting significant losses for the Russians.
But in his nightly address on Friday, Ukrainian President
said the situation in eastern Ukraine was “very difficult” as Russia pressed for territorial gains around Bakhmut and prepared for expected offensives along multiple fronts in the country’s east and south in coming weeks.
“I thank all of our fighters who are withstanding severe pressure from the occupiers,” Mr. Zelensky said. He said he was doing everything to expedite the delivery of Western tanks promised by Ukraine’s European allies, which Kyiv hopes will help swing the balance in its favor and enable counteroffensives against Russian forces.
The U.K.’s defense ministry on Saturday posted images of Ukrainian service members training this week on advanced British main battle tanks, which the U.K. is preparing to send to Ukraine as part of a package of offensive armor pledged by several Western allies.
“Tank crews from the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been quick to master the controls of the mighty Challenger 2,” the ministry said in a Twitter post.
Ukrainian and Western officials have for weeks been warning of a major Russian offensive to coincide with the war’s one-year anniversary later this month, and the package of military aid is aimed in part at countering Russian attempts to regain the initiative in the war.
Military officials have pointed to a troop buildup in Russian-held areas of Ukraine that includes many of the 300,000 soldiers Russia has mobilized since September and tasked with breaking through Ukrainian lines in the east and south.
Far from the front lines of the fiercest battles, Russia is also building up forces at barracks and in villages with access to supply routes leading to front-line positions. Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the exiled mayor of Russian-occupied Mariupol, said on Saturday that Russia had brought an extra 10,000 to 15,000 troops to that city and the settlements around it.
He said Russian soldiers positioned in those locations are actively revealing details of their orders to locals, telling them that the main thrust of the coming attacks will target Vuhledar, southwest of Bakhmut, and Zaporizhzhia, the capital of the surrounding Zaporizhzhia region that Russia claims as part of its territory.
“Looks like an active reinforcement of reservists for a continuation of the attack,” Mr. Andriushchenko said in a post to the Telegram app.
The situation in Bakhmut remains highly volatile for civilians as Russian forces pressure Ukraine’s hold on the city from three directions. Ukrainian troops fighting there say Russian drones are targeting all vehicles passing through Bakhmut. For weeks, almost the only traffic in the city has been military cars and volunteer vans helping bring humanitarian aid in and ferry the injured out.
Pete Reed, an American serving as a volunteer medic in front-line areas, was killed while rendering aid in Bakhmut on Thursday, said Global Response Medicine, the NGO he founded and led. Family and friends of Mr. Reed, a 33-year-old ex-Marine, told the media he was killed in the city when a Russian shell struck the vehicle in which he was traveling.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday said 63 Russian prisoners of war had returned to Russia following protracted negotiations with the Ukrainian side and mediation by the United Arab Emirates.
Ukraine said 116 of its service members had been repatriated in the prisoner exchange, one of many that has taken place since the war began in February. “We continue to work,”
Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, said in a social-media post. “We’ll bring back everyone.”
Meanwhile, authorities in Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine and hosts training camps for soldiers dispatched to shore up the Russian invasion, said a civilian factory was hit by Ukrainian shelling overnight into Saturday. The regional governor,
said no one was injured since workers had been evacuated from the premises. Ukraine didn’t immediately comment on the claim.
Write to Matthew Luxmoore at firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrections & Amplifications
Petro Andriushchenko is an adviser to the exiled mayor of Russian-occupied Mariupol. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Mr. Andriushchenko is the mayor. (Corrected on Feb. 4)
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