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Russian troops storm city amid eastern Ukraine bombardments

POKROVSK, UKRAINE (AP) – Russian and Ukrainian troops engaged in close-quarter combat in an eastern Ukraine city yesterday as Moscow’s soldiers, supported by intense shelling, attempted to gain strategic footholds in the region while facing fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Ukrainian regional officials reported that Russian forces were “storming” the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where the fighting has knocked out power and cellphone services and terrorised civilians who haven’t fled.

Sievierodonetsk, a manufacturing centre, has emerged as an epicentre of Russia’s quest to conquer Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. Russia also stepped up its efforts to take nearby Lysychansk, where Ukrainian officials reported constant shelling.

The two cities, with a combined prewar population of around 200,000, are the last major areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk province, which makes up the Donbas together with neighbouring Donetsk.

Russia is focussed on capturing parts of both not already controlled by pro-Moscow separatists. Russian forces made small advances in recent days as bombardments chewed away at Ukrainian positions and kept civilians trapped in basements or desperately trying to get out safely.

Attacks to destroy military targets throughout the country also caused casualties in civilian areas.

Russian soldiers on a board of a Mi-8 helicopter of the Russian air force during a mission at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. PHOTO: AP