(Reuters) - Ukrainian forces trying to press on with their three-month-old counteroffensive are facing new waves of Russian attacks on key frontline cities in the east, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Wednesday.
Ukraine's counteroffensive has focused on capturing clusters of villages in an advance southward to the Sea of Azov and retaking areas around the city of Bakhmut in the east, a town seized by Russian forces in May after months of battles.
The campaign has moved more slowly than Ukraine's rapid advances a year ago, but President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has rejected criticism in Western media that it is too sluggish and has been hurt by poor strategy.
Maliar said the military was now facing fresh Russian assaults on two cities it has been defending for months in the east: the coking centre of Avdiivka and nearby Maryinka.
"If we are talking about the east, the situation has become much tougher in Maryinka," Maliar told national television.
"The Russians have increased their shelling," she said, and have also begun waves of attacks.
Ukrainian forces, she said, had achieved "stable success" in their drive to recapture Bakhmut and had achieved some of their goals around Klishchivka, a village on heights to the south.
Further north, near the towns of Lyman and Kupiansk, the heavy fighting of recent weeks has eased, she said.
The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its evening report that Ukrainian troops had beaten back 10 Russian attacks near Maryinka in the past 24 hours. It said Russian forces were trying to regain lost positions northwest of Bakhmut.
Russian accounts of the fighting, reported by the Defence Ministry on Telegram, said Russian forces had repelled 10 Ukrainian attacks in the east and southeast.
In the south, Maliar said Russian forces dug in after more than a year of occupation "are not simply about to give up".
Robotyne, a village secured by Ukraine this month, was firmly under Kyiv's control, although "nearby, very serious fighting is going on. But at the same time we have made advances."
Ukrainian forces are pressing the drive southward to sever a land bridge created by Russian occupying forces between Crimea, annexed in 2014, and their troops installed in the east.
Reuters was unable to verify any of the reports of action on the ground.
(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa and Ron Popeski; editing by Jonathan Oatis)