Ukrainian forces press on in east, inflict casualties in south-officials

(Reuters) - Ukraine on Thursday pressed on with a gruelling campaign to regain ground near the shattered Russian-held city of Bakhmut and inflicted heavy casualties on Russian forces on the southern front, senior military officials said.

The Ukrainian accounts outlined fierce fighting in many parts of the eastern front, but no new breakthroughs in the three-month old counter offensive.

Ukrainian advances have been much slower than gains they recorded last year in recovering territory in the northeast, as they proceed methodically in the face of deep Russian entrenchments.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other officials have dismissed Western critics who say the three-month offensive is too slow and hampered by strategic errors, like placing troops in the wrong places.

Russia's Defence Ministry said its forces had repelled eight attacks in the east in hotly contested areas south of Bakhmut.

Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister, Hanna Maliar, said Kyiv's forces were making gains around three villages south of Bakhmut - including Andriivka.

"Progress has been made there," she said on the Telegram messaging app.

Maliar initially reported that Andriivka had been brought under Ukrainian control, but later said that was inaccurate as fighting was still raging around the village.

Russian forces captured Bakhmut in May after months of battles left the city in ruins. Ukrainian forces have since been chipping away at Russian positions, notably south of Bakhmut.

Maliar made no mention of the towns of Avdiivka and Maryinka, further south in Donetsk region, a day after she said both were being subjected to heavy Russian attacks.

On the southern front, where Ukrainian forces have focused on capturing clusters of villages in a drive towards the Sea of Azov, Maliar said Russian troops had sustained "significant losses" in attacks on key towns.

The Russian casualties, Maliar said, had "significantly reduced their ability to defend themselves".

The drive southward is intended to split a land bridge created by Russian forces between the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and areas they hold in the east, expanded by their full-scale invasion launched in February 2022.

Oleksander Shtupun, spokesperson for troops on the southern front, underscored the heavy extent of Russian losses in Moscow's attempts to recover lost positions.

"The enemy, as a result of attempts to recapture at least some of the lost positions in the Tavria (south) direction in the last two days has lost 15 tanks and 12 armoured vehicles," he said on national television.

He put Russian personnel losses at 665 over the two days.

Reuters could not verify any of the battlefield reports.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Nick Starkov; Editing by Stephen Coates)