Russian forces claimed some battlefield success on Wednesday, as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine laboured to gain momentum almost a year after it began.
The Russian Defence Ministry said its troops broke through two Ukrainian defensive lines in the eastern Luhansk region and pushed back Ukrainian troops some three kilometres (two miles), forcing them to leave behind equipment and the bodies of those killed.
It was not possible to independently verify Moscow’s claim, and Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment.
Russian artillery, drones and missiles have been relentlessly pounding Ukrainian-held eastern areas for months, indiscriminately hitting civilian targets and wreaking destruction, as the war largely slowed to a grinding stalemate in the winter.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which together make up the industrial Donbas region bordering Russia, continue to bear the brunt of Russia’s bombardments as Moscow reportedly moves more troops into the area.
In Luhansk, the number of Russian ground and air attacks is “growing every day”, governor Serhii Haidai said on Ukrainian TV.
“The Russians were able to transfer new forces for the offensive and now they are trying to overwhelm us with sheer human mass,” Mr Haidai said.
Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Wednesday that one town had come under “non-stop” fire from multiple rocket launchers for more than three hours the previous day, damaging at least 12 residential buildings.
With the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war approaching, followed by improved spring weather, western officials and analysts say the fighting could be nearing a critical phase when both sides look to launch offensives.
The Kremlin is striving to secure eastern areas it illegally annexed last September – the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions – and where it claims its rule is welcomed.
Pro-Moscow separatists have controlled part of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk province since 2014.
Amid the fighting, Ukrainian Red Cross volunteers are evacuating immobile patients from Donetsk hospitals to medical trains operated by Doctors without Borders.
The trains take patients to safer regions of Ukraine.
The battles are draining weapons stockpiles on both sides.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg warned earlier this week that Ukraine is using up ammunition far faster than its allies can provide it.
The UK Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday that Russia’s military industrial output “is becoming a critical weakness”.
American defence officials insist Iran is helping the Kremlin sustain bombardments in Ukraine by supplying it with attack drones.
Kyiv’s continued defence of Bakhmut, a mining town that for months has been a key target of Russia’s campaign in the east, has been “strategically sound” because it sapped Moscow’s momentum, a US think tank said.
Some analysts had doubted the wisdom of Ukraine holding out in Bakhmut because it could hurt the chances of its expected spring offensive.
Meanwhile, support among the American public for providing Ukraine weaponry and direct economic assistance has waned, according to a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research.
Forty-eight percent of those interviewed said they favour the US providing weapons to Ukraine.
In May last year, 60% of US adults said they were in favour of sending Ukraine weapons.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday claimed that western support for Kyiv’s war effort was prearranged, telling the lower house of Russian parliament that “the US and its satellites are waging a comprehensive hybrid war following years of preparation”.
Mr Lavrov said a revised Russian foreign policy doctrine to be published soon will emphasise the need to “end the western monopoly on shaping frameworks of international life”.
The war has caused widespread suffering, and the global economy is still feeling the consequences.
The UN’s humanitarian aid and refugee agencies said on Wednesday they are seeking 5.6 billion dollars (£4.6 billion) to help millions of people in Ukraine and countries that have taken in fleeing Ukrainians.
That includes 1.7 billion dollars (£1.4 billion) to help some 4.2 million refugees who have fled to 10 host countries in eastern and central Europe.
The joint appeal is one of the largest of its kind for a single country, after those for Yemen and Afghanistan.
Such UN appeals rarely get fully funded.