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DONETSK PROVINCE The situation in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was extremely tense on Tuesday, the commander of Ukrainian ground forces said, as Russian troops besieging it stepped up their assault in a bid to encircle it.

Russia is trying to cut the Ukrainian defenders supply lines to the city, the scene of some of the wars toughest fighting, and force them to surrender or withdraw.

That would give Russia its first major prize in more than half a year and open the way to the capture of the last remaining urban centres in the Donetsk region. It is one of four which Moscow claims to have annexed in what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner, who are trying to break through the defences of our troops and surround the city, Ukraines Colonel-general Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a statement.

An unnamed soldier from Ukraines 93rd Separate Mechanised Brigade, speaking on the Telegram messaging app, struck a defiant note: February 28, the town of Bakhmut. The city is on fire, the enemy is pressing. Everything will be Ukraine…

Russias state-run RIA news agency released a video clip which it said shows Russian Su-25 fighter jets roaring over Bakhmut.

We are glad they are ours, says a man in the clip identified as a Wagner fighter, adding the jets helped them psychologically.

Ukraines military said earlier that Russia had strengthened its forces in the Bakhmut area and was shelling settlements around the city.

Over the past day, our soldiers repelled more than 60 enemy attacks, the military said early on Tuesday, referring to Bakhmut and nearby eastern areas. It added that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks on the villages of Yadhidne and Berkhivka, on the northern approaches to Bakhmut.

A Reuters reporter who visited the area on Monday said he saw no sign of Ukrainian forces withdrawing and that reinforcements were arriving despite constant Russian shelling.

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.

Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk region hunkered 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, commander of a Ukrainian front-line rocket launcher battery, watching a tablet screen for coordinates to fire.

The spring thaw, known as the rasputitsa, has a history of ruining plans by armies to attack across Ukraine and western Russia, turning roads into rivers and fields into quagmires.

Reuters 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 were given a target that means we have to destroy it. A Ukrainian service member sits inside an armoured vehicle stuck near the frontline town of Bakhmut on Feb 25, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS Russia, its forces replenished with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, has intensified its attacks along the eastern front but its assaults 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, Mr Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraines eastern military command, told Ukrainian 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. More On This Topic Zelensky says Bakhmut fight 'more and more complicated' Russian mercenary leader, Ukraine give varying accounts on fighting near Bakhmut The Russian defence ministry, without citing evidence, said the United States was planning a provocation in Ukraine using toxic chemicals. There was no immediate US response.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated on Tuesday Moscows position that it is open to peace negotiations.

But he said Kyiv and its Western allies must accept Russias annexation of four Ukrainian regions Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia following referendums last September that Kyiv and the West says were illegal.

There are certain realities that have already become an internal factor. I mean the new territories. The Constitution of the Russian Federation exists, and cannot be ignored. Russia will never be able to compromise on this. These are important realities, Mr Peskov told reporters.

Kyiv has so far ruled out talks with Moscow and has demanded that Russian troops withdraw to Ukraines 1991 borders.

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 President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials.

Her boss, President Joe Biden, went there a week ago to mark the first anniversary of Russias invasion of Ukraine.

America will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes, Dr Yellen, flanked by sandbags at the Cabinet office, told Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen paying her respects at a Memory Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine during her visit to Kyiv on Feb 27, 2023 PHOTO: AFP Dr Yellen announced the transfer of the first US$1.25 billion (S$1.7 billion) from the latest, $9.9 billion tranche of US economic and budget 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. More On This Topic Yellen says legal obstacles remain on seizure of Russian assets to aid Ukraine Ukraine finds stepping up mobilisation is not so easy Ukraines 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.

Mr Zelensky pushed again for F-16 fighter jets that 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, Mr Zelenskiy said in his nightly radio address.

The Feb 24 first anniversary of Russias invasion saw both sides trying to demonstrate resolve for a second year of war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech in which he abandoned the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the United States but announced no major initiatives to change the wars course.

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

Ukraines outnumbered troops repelled Russias attack aimed at taking the capital early in the war and later recaptured substantial territory. Russia still occupies nearly a fifth of Ukraine which i claims to have annexed. REUTERS More On This Topic Putin casts war as a battle for Russia's survival How to win the hot war in Ukraine and the cold war that will follow it

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