Russian forces press deadly assault for breakthrough in east

Jan 11, 2023, 3:08 PM | Updated: Jan 12, 2023, 12:48 pm
Leonid places wood into a potbelly stove as he continues to live in the city without electricity, r...

Leonid places wood into a potbelly stove as he continues to live in the city without electricity, running water and gas in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

(AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

              Leonid places wood into a potbelly stove as he continues to live in the city without electricity, running water and gas in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
            
              Local residents receive humanitarian aid from the volunteer organization "Chaplain Battalion Mariupol" in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
            
              A military paramedic sits inside his vehicle in Bakhmut, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
            
              Tamara Makshanova 75, stands near a crater left by the Russian rocket that damaged her home in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)
            
              People walk to their basements after receiving humanitarian aid in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
            
              Nadia Zabavska, 60, stands in the basement of her house where she lives with her husband without electricity, running water and gas in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
            
              Leonid sits in a basement with his neighbour as they continue to live in the city without electricity, running water and gas in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
            
              A local resident walks along a street past damaged buildings in Bakhmut, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
            
              Ukrainian soldiers carrying the coffin of their fallen comrade in Bucha, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. Family members, Ukrainian soldiers, and mourners gathered to pay tribute for Volodymyr Kerbut, commander of a rifle division, killed in fighting against Russian forces on a battlefield near Soledar, the strategic town under siege on Ukraine's eastern front. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)
            
              Ukrainian servicemen pay their last respects at the coffin of their comrade Denis Galushko during a commemoration ceremony in Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2023. The 38-year-old soldier died during a combat mission in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
            
              Ukrainian tanks roll towards the frontline in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
            
              Ukrainian soldiers patrol, in Bakhmut, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
            
              Ukrainian soldiers walk in the position close to Bakhmut, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
            
              Nina Klinkova reacts to a sound of an explosion as she looks for humanitarian aid in Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
            
              Ukrainian servicemen pay their last respects at the coffin of their comrade Denis Galushko during a commemoration ceremony in Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2023. The 38-year-old soldier died during a combat mission in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
            
              Smoke billows during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
            
              Smoke billows during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
            
              Smoke raises after shelling in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
            
              A Ukrainian soldier points at raising smoke on his position in the frontline near Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
            
              Ukrainian soldiers on their positions in the frontline near Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.(AP Photo/Libkos)
            
              This undated satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, shows the damage to buildings in Soledar, Ukraine. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
            
              Ukrainian army Grad multiple rocket launcher fires rockets at Russian positions in the frontline near Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Libkos)
            Ukrainian soldiers hold their national flag over the coffin of comrade Denis Galushko, during a commemoration ceremony in Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2023. The 38-year-old soldier died during a combat mission in the Donetsk region. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia said Thursday that its forces are edging closer to capturing a salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine, which would mark an elusive victory for the Kremlin but come at the cost of heavy Russian casualties and extensive destruction of the territory they claim.

More than 100 Russian troops were killed in the battle for Soledar over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks.

“The Russians have literally marched on the bodies of their own soldiers, burning everything on their way,” Kyrylenko said while reporting that Russian forces had shelled a dozen towns and villages in the region in the past day.

Russian forces are using mortars and rockets to bombard Soledar in an unrelenting assault, struggling for a breakthrough after military setbacks have turned what the Kremlin hoped would be a fast victory into a grinding war of attrition that has dragged on for nearly 11 months with no end in sight.

“Civilians are trying to survive amid that bloodbath as the Russians are pressing their attacks,” Kyrylenko said. Serhii Cherevatiy, a spokesman for Ukraine’s forces in the east, said Soledar was hit by Russian artillery more than 90 times in the past day.

Soledar’s fall would be a prize for a Kremlin starved of good battlefield news in recent months, after losing the significant city of Kherson in December. It would also offer Russian troops a springboard to conquer other areas of the eastern Donetsk province that remain under Ukrainian control, particularly the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut.

The Russians’ tactic in the assault on Soledar is to send one or two waves of soldiers, many from the private Russian military contractor Wagner Group who take heavy casualties as they probe the Ukrainian defenses, a Ukrainian officer near Soledar told The Associated Press. When Ukrainian troops suffer casualties and are exhausted, the Russians send in another wave of highly-trained soldiers, paratroopers or special forces, to get a new toehold on the battlefield, said the Ukrainian officer, who insisted on anonymity for security reasons.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised the “selfless and courageous action” of Russian troops, which he said is helping them to press forward in Soledar.

“Gigantic work has been done in Soledar,” he said.

Peskov, however, stopped short of confirming a claim by Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who boasted about capturing Soledar on Wednesday.

“There is still a lot to be done and it’s too early to stop and rub our hands, the main work is still ahead,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, said at a briefing Thursday: “The enemy continues the assaults, but suffers significant losses and is not successful.”

The AP was unable to verify the claims made by either side.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed that the troops defending Soledar “will be guaranteed ammunition and everything necessary.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry made no mention of Soledar in its daily briefing on Thursday. The ministry announced Wednesday that the country’s top military officer — the chief of the military’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov — was put in charge of the military operation in Ukraine. He replaces Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who was demoted to deputy only three months after he was installed in that job.

Ukrainian officials also said they were taking note of personnel changes at the top levels of the Russian military command, describing them as a sign that Moscow isn’t achieving what it had hoped.

“Personnel changes would not occur with such frequency if they were doing well,” a senior Ukrainian military official, Brig. Gen. Oleksiy Hromov, said.

Fighting continued elsewhere in Ukraine.

The deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, reported Thursday that two civilians were killed and a further eight were wounded in Russian attacks on Wednesday.

Citing data from regional officials, Tymoshenko said that one civilian died and five were wounded in the southern Kherson province, where shells hit a maternity hospital, private houses and apartment buildings, while one person was killed in Donetsk.

Two people were wounded in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia province, with one further civilian sustaining injuries in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk province.

At the United Nations, Ukraine’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova told the Security Council that Ukraine will seek a general assembly vote on a resolution supporting Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace formula that includes the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the Russians’ withdrawal. The plan that Zelenskyy presented to the Group of 20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia in November also includes the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the Russian aggression, and security guarantees for Ukraine.

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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Russian forces press deadly assault for breakthrough in east