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Ukraine today said the situation around the besieged city of Bakhmut is ‘extremely tense’ as Vladimir Putin‘s forces stepped up their assault to encircle Ukrainian troops.

Russia is trying to cut supply lines to the city, the scene of some of the war’s toughest fighting, and force them to surrender or withdraw. 

This would give Putin his first major victory in more than half a year and open the way to the capture of the last remaining urban centres in the Donetsk region.

‘Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner [mercenary group], who are trying to break through the defences of our troops and surround the city,’ Ukraine’s Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi said on a military messaging platform.

Ukraine’s military previously said Russia had strengthened its forces in the Bakhmut area and was shelling settlements around the city.

Ukrainian servicemen are seen near an automatic grenade launcher at their positions, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen are seen near an automatic grenade launcher at their positions, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman walks an empty street, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 25

A Ukrainian serviceman walks an empty street, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 25

Ukrainian service members are seen next to an infantry fighting vehicle near the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine

Ukrainian service members are seen next to an infantry fighting vehicle near the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine

‘Over the past day, our soldiers repelled more than 60 enemy attacks,’ it said earlier today, adding that Ukrainian forces repelled attacks on the villages of Yadhidne and Berkhivka, to the north of the city.

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Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Russian forces had driven a wedge between those villages as they tried to cut the road west to Chasiv Yar.

‘The southern part of Bakhmut is the only area which can be described as under Ukrainian control. In all other districts, the situation is unpredictable,’ he said in a video commentary, adding: ‘It is impossible to say where the front line lies.’

Yesterday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenksy said the situation in the city is ‘getting more and more complicated’.

‘The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions,’ he said, calling his soldiers there ‘real heroes’.

Analysts say Moscow’s victory in capturing the city would be mainly symbolic as the salt-mining town holds little strategic value.

Ukrainian service members ride inside an infantry fighting vehicle near Bakhmut

Ukrainian service members ride inside an infantry fighting vehicle near Bakhmut

A Ukrainian serviceman looks through a broken window of a damaged residential building as the sounds of shelling continue in Bakhmut on February 27

A Ukrainian serviceman looks through a broken window of a damaged residential building as the sounds of shelling continue in Bakhmut on February 27

A destroyed and burnt residential building in Bakhmut on February 27, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

A destroyed and burnt residential building in Bakhmut on February 27, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Meanwhile, Ukrainian soldiers in the Donetsk region hunkered down in muddy trenches after warmer weather thawed out the frozen ground.

‘Both sides stay in their positions, because as you see, spring means mud. Thus, it is impossible to move forward,’ said Mykola, 59, a commander of a frontline rocket launcher battery, who uses a tablet screen to check coordinates of where to fire.

The spring thaw, known as the rasputitsa, which turns roads into rivers and fields into quagmires, has a history of ruining armies’ movements across Ukraine and western Russia.

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Reuters news agency saw several military vehicles stuck in mud. In a zigzag trench, Volodymyr, a 25-year-old platoon commander, said his men were prepared to operate in any weather.

‘When we’re given a target that means we have to destroy it.’

Russia, its forces replenished with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, has intensified its attacks on the eastern front but these have come at a high cost, Ukraine and its allies say.

‘Vicious battles are going on there. The command is doing everything it can to stop the enemy from advancing through our territory,’ Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told the country’s television.

Russia said its forces had destroyed a Ukrainian ammunition depot near Bakhmut and shot down US-made rockets and Ukrainian drones. Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

The Russian defence ministry said the US was planning a provocation in Ukraine using toxic chemicals. There was no immediate US response.

Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen became the latest senior Western official to visit the Ukrainian capital, promising assistance and more measures to isolate Russia after meetings with Zelensky and other officials.

President Joe Biden went there a week ago to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

‘America will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes,’ Yellen, flanked by sandbags at the Cabinet office, told Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

A Ukrainian soldier in a trench near the front line, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 27

A Ukrainian soldier in a trench near the front line, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 27

Yellen announced the transfer of the first $1.25billion from the latest $9.9billion tranche of US economic assistance, and visited a school where teacher salaries are reimbursed with US support.

She also backed completion of a fully financed programme for Ukraine with the International Monetary Fund by the end of March.

Ukraine’s forces have mostly focused on holding defensive positions in recent weeks but are expected to attempt a counter-offensive later in the year with new weapons from the West.

Zelensky pushed again for F-16 fighter jets his Western allies have been reluctant to provide.

‘We will be able to completely protect our skies when the aviation taboo is fully lifted in relations with our partners,’ Zelenskiy said in his nightly radio address.

The anniversary of the invasion saw both sides trying to demonstrate resolve for a second year of war. 

Putin gave a speech in which he abandoned the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the US but announced no major initiatives to change the war’s course.

He was upstaged by Mr Biden, who travelled to Kyiv and gave a landmark speech of his own in Warsaw.

Ukraine’s outnumbered troops repelled Russia’s attack aimed at taking the capital early in the war and later recaptured substantial territory. Russia still occupies nearly a fifth of Ukraine which it claims to have annexed.

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