Russian forces are keeping Ukrainian troops tied down with fighting in the eastern Donbas region as Moscow assembles additional combat power there for an expected offensive in the coming weeks, Ukrainian officials said Monday.
Weeks of intense fighting continued to rage around the city of Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
They are located in the Donetsk region, which with neighboring Luhansk region makes up the Donbas region, an industrial area bordering Russia.
“The battles for the region are heating up,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks, adding that “the Russians are throwing new units into the battle and eradicating our towns and villages.”
In Luhansk, Gov. Serhii Haidai said shelling there had subsided because “the Russians have been saving ammunition for a large-scale offensive.”
Military analysts say the Kremlin’s forces may be probing Ukraine defenses for weak points or could be making a feint while preparing for a main thrust through southern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is hungry for some battlefield success, especially securing illegally annexed territory in eastern Ukraine, to mark the anniversary of his invasion on Feb. 24.
Russian forces made gains in the first few months of the war, though they failed to clinch key objectives and were then driven back from large areas by a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Western military help has been essential for Kyiv. Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand tweeted late Sunday that the first Leopard tank Canada is donating to Ukraine had arrived in Poland. It is part of a broad tank commitment by Ukraine’s Western allies to help it defeat Russia.
Training for Ukrainian military in how to use the tank was due to begin “soon,” Anand said, as the allies race to get Ukraine’s forces ready before the looming offensive.
Ukraine’s presidential office said Monday that at least one civilian had been killed and 10 others wounded by Russian shelling over the past 24 hours.
Five of those wounded were injured during the shelling of Kharkiv city, where Russian shells struck residential buildings and a university, the presidential office said.
The Russians again fired at targets across the Dnieper River from the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, damaging residential buildings and power lines in Nikopol and Marhanets across the River Dnieper, Ukrainian authorities reported.
Russian forces occupied Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, early in the war, and regular shelling of the area stoked major safety concerns.
The UN nuclear chief is expected to visit Moscow this week to discuss safety at Zaporizhzhia, according to a senior Russian diplomat. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov wouldn’t reveal the exact date of International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi’s visit to Russia, but confirmed that it is expected to take place this week and that the safety of the nuclear power plant was “a key issue” on the agenda.
The IAEA didn’t immediately answer a request for comment.