Ukraine troops hold key town, Russia fires more missiles, Zelenskiy says

Oct 15 (Reuters) - Ukrainian troops are still holding the strategic eastern town of Bakhmut despite repeated Russian attacks while the situation in the Donbas region remains very difficult, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday.

Zelenskiy, speaking in an evening address, also said Russian missiles and drones had continued to hit Ukrainian cities, causing destruction and casualties.

Although Ukrainian troops have recaptured thousands of square kilometres (miles) of land in recent offensives in the east and south, officials say progress is likely to slow once Kyiv's forces meet more determined resistance.

Fighting is particularly intense in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces bordering Russia. Together they make up the larger industrial Donbas, which Moscow has yet to fully capture.

Russian forces have repeatedly tried to seize Bakhmut, which sits on a main road leading to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Both are situated in the Donetsk region.

"Active fighting continues in various areas of the front. A very difficult situation persists in the Donetsk region and Luhansk region," Zelenskiy said.

"The most difficult (situation) is in the direction of Bakhmut, as in previous days. We are holding our positions."

Separately, the Ukrainian armed forces' general staff said in a Facebook post that troops had on Saturday repelled a total of 11 separate Russian attacks near Kramatorsk, Bakhmut and the town of Avdiivka, just to the north of Donetsk.

Zelenskiy said Russian forces, which rained cruise missiles on several Ukrainian cities on Monday, had hit targets in seven regions over the last two days.

"Some of the missiles and drones were shot down but unfortunately, not all of them. Unfortunately, there is destruction and casualties," he said. Kyiv said on Friday that it expected the United States and Germany to deliver sophisticated anti-aircraft systems this month.

Zelenskiy also said almost 65,000 Russians had been killed so far since the Feb. 24 invasion, a figure far higher than Moscow's official Sept. 21 estimate of 5,937 dead. In August the Pentagon said Russia has suffered between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties, either killed or wounded.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Grant McCool

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Covers Canadian political, economic and general news as well as breaking news across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and a winner of Reuters’ Treasury scoop of the year.