Control over devastated eastern Ukrainian town uncertain

FILE PHOTO: Drone view shows the remains of Maryinka city that was destroyed by the Russians, in Maryinka

(Reuters) - Control over Maryinka, a town in eastern Ukraine all but destroyed by more than a year of fighting, remained uncertain on Friday, with unofficial reports suggesting Russian forces had registered some gains.

Most accounts of Maryinka, southwest of the Russian-held regional centre of Donetsk, describe it as a ghost town amid daily reports of Ukrainian forces defending different districts. Once a city of 10,000, there are no civilians left.

Ukraine's General Staff, in its evening report, said Russian forces had been unsuccessful in attempts to advance on villages near Maryinka, but said nothing of troop movements in the town.

Russia's Defence Ministry made no mention of the town in its dispatches.

Unofficial Russian blogger Rybar referred to a photo circulating on social media showing Russian forces hoisting the national flag in the southwest of the town. Ukrainian forces, it said, remained in control of other districts.

"However, if information about the movement of Russian troops to the south is accurate, the enemy's retreat is a question that is fast approaching," it said.

Ukrainian social media accounts noted Russian advances, but quoted soldiers as rejecting the notion that Moscow's troops controlled the entire town.

"The Russians have been taking Maryinka since March 2022," read one post on the blog DeepState. "Maryinka has been in ruins for more than a year."

Russian forces, focused on eastern Ukraine, have been attacking the town of Avdiivka, 40 km (25 miles) north of Maryinka, since mid-October. Ukraine says its forces control Avdiivka, though not a single building remains intact.

Ukrainian military spokesperson Volodymyr Fitio, speaking on national television, made no reference to either Maryinka or Avdiivka, but said Russian forces were launching attacks in many sectors of the 1,000-km front line.

Ukrainian forces, he said, had repelled attacks near Kupiansk, a northeastern area seized by Russia after invading in February 2022, but retaken by Ukrainian troops a year ago.

Ukrainian troops regained swathes of territory last year in a sweep through the northeast, but a counteroffensive launched in the east and south in June has made only incremental gains.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy acknowledges that the advance has been slow, but rejects any notion that the war is slipping into a stalemate.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by Leslie Adler)