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 mobile phone services and terrorised civilians who have not 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 pre-war 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.

Russian forces have made small advances in recent days as bombardments ate away at Ukrainian positions and kept civilians trapped in basements or desperately trying to get out safely.

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

The Ukrainian military said yesterday morning that Russian forces were trying to strengthen their positions around Lyman, a small city that serves as a key rail hub in the Donetsk region.

“The enemy is reinforcing its units,” the Ukrainian armed forces’ General Staff said in an operational update. “It is trying to gain a foothold in the area.”

Moscow claimed on Saturday to have taken Lyman, but there was no acknowledgement of that from Kyiv authorities.

The Ukrainian army said heavy fighting was continuing around Donetsk, the provincial capital.

It also said Russia had launched an offensive on Saturday night around the city of Bakhmut, in the neighbouring Luhansk region, but had been pushed back.

The National: A damaged residential building in Bakhmut, eastern UkraineA damaged residential building in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine

In the same operational update, the military hinted at high levels of casualties sustained by Moscow, claiming that civilians were no longer being admitted to ­hospitals in Russia-annexed Crimea as beds were needed by injured troops.

It was not immediately possible to verify the ­accuracy of these claims.

More widely, Russia launched renewed air strikes overnight on Ukraine’s northern Kharkiv and Sumy regions, Ukrainian state agencies said.

The State Emergency Service of Ukraine said yesterday that ­Russian shelling had caused fires around Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.

Russia has kept up a bombardment of Kharkiv, located in north-eastern Ukraine, after Ukrainian fighters pushed its forces back from positions near the city several weeks ago.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Kharkiv yesterday.

The regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, told the president that Russian troops remained in possession of around 30% of the Kharkiv region, while Kyiv’s troops had recaptured another 5%.