Russia pounded the front line in Ukraine’s south and east with artillery strikes, Ukrainian military authorities said on Sunday, as Moscow bombarded the Kherson region and pushed to break through Kyiv’s last remaining defenses around the city of Bakhmut.
The strikes came as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia suggested in an interview broadcast on Sunday that his country faced a long-term conflict with Western nations, which have pledged further military aid to Ukraine. Moscow’s latest attacks killed three civilians in the eastern Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is, and two others in Kherson, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia “keeps attacking the positions of Ukrainian troops” around Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said on Sunday in its daily update. But it denied a claim made by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group that the village of Yahidne, northwest of the city, had fallen into Russian hands. Fighting flared in seven villages near Bakhmut on Sunday, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern group of forces, Serhiy Cherevaty, said in a television interview, adding that there had been 14 separate clashes on that section of the front line alone.
Bakhmut has for months been the focus of a grinding Russian campaign along the roughly 140-mile eastern front. Capturing Bakhmut would constitute Russia’s biggest battlefield victory in months, and the city is seen as key to seizing the entire Donbas area of eastern Ukraine, as Mr. Putin has ordered. Russian forces, including newly mobilized recruits and Wagner mercenaries, have taken a series of towns and villages around Bakhmut in recent weeks, as they seek to encircle Ukraine’s fighters there.