20km advance Putins troops hit by stern fightback as key checkpoints liberated

Ukraine: Paratroopers destroy Russian ammunition

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Ukrainian media outlet Hromadske said on Monday (June 13) the country’s Joint Forces HQ reported three villages in the Donetsk region have been freed from Russian occupation. It added Ukraine’s forces have also advanced nine to 12 miles (15-20km) from the settlements.

Hromadske tweeted: “Since mid-April, the Ukrainian military has liberated 3 villages on one of the Donetsk axes & advanced 15-20 kilometres from them, the Joint Forces HQ reported.

“The military did not specify which villages were liberated. They are currently in the “gray zone”, but under [Ukraine’s] control.”

Express.co.uk has not been able to independently verify this report.

Donetsk and Luhansk are two breakaway Russian-backed areas in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Russia says it is fighting in the region to wrest the breakaway areas entirely from Kyiv’s control.

The Kremlin said on Monday that Russia’s main goal in Ukraine is to protect the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.

It came after the leader of the separatist Donetsk region of Ukraine Denis Pushilin reported increased fighting and shelling in the region.

Mr Pushilin said: “All necessary forces, including the allied ones, including the forces of the Russian Federation, will be involved in order to counter the enemy.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russia’s RIA state news agency as saying: “In general, the protection of the republics is the main goal of the special military operation.”

RIA previously reported several civilians, including a child, had died in shelling on Monday.

Express.co.uk has not been able to independently verify this report.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian official said on Monday Russian forces have tightened their grip on the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk.

Russian troops have cut off the last remaining routes for evacuating citizens in a scene echoing the siege of the port city of Mariupol.

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Amid heavy bombardment, regional governor Sergei Gaidai said on social media that all bridges out of the city had been destroyed, making it impossible to bring in humanitarian cargo or evacuate citizens.

Mr Gaidai said: “It is now fully impossible unfortunately to drive into the city, to deliver something to the city. Evacuation is impossible.”

In comments made on social media, Mr Gaidai, who is governor of the Luhansk region that includes Sievierodonetsk, said Russian forces now control about 70 percent of the city and have been destroying it “quarter by quarter”.

He added: “The battles are so fierce that fighting for not just a street but for a single high-rise building can last for days.”

Ukraine has made increasingly urgent calls for more Western heavy weapons to help defend the city.

Kyiv says Sievierodonetsk could hold the key to the battle for the Donbas region and the course of the war, which is now in its fourth month.

Ukraine’s military command said in a briefing note Russian forces were trying to take full control of Sievierodonetsk, but an assault on Ukrainian positions in the southeast of the city had failed.

In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence said river crossing operations are likely to be among the most important determining factors in the course of the war.

It noted that the key, 56 mile (90km) long central section of Russia’s frontline in the Donbas lies to the west of the Siverskyy Donets River.

Defence Intelligence added: “To achieve success in the current operational phase of its Donbas offensive, Russia is either going to have to complete ambitious flanking actions, or conduct river crossings.

“Ukrainian forces have often managed to demolish bridges before they withdraw, while Russia has struggled to put in place the complex coordination necessary to conduct successful, large scale river crossings under fire.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that his troops were fighting fiercely for “every metre” of Sievierodonetsk.

Mr Gaidai said about 500 civilians remain on the grounds of the Azot chemical plant in the city and that 40 of them are children.

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