By SUSIE BLANN
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces are keeping Ukrainian troops tied down with attacks in the eastern Donbas region as Moscow assembles additional combat power there for an expected offensive in the coming weeks, Ukrainian officials said Monday.
Weeks of intense fighting continued to rage around the city of Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
They are located in the Donetsk region, which with neighboring Luhansk region makes up the Donbas region, an industrial area bordering Russia.
“The battles for the region are heating up,” Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks, adding that “the Russians are throwing new units into the battle and eradicating our towns and villages.”
In Luhansk, Gov. Serhii Haidai said shelling there had subsided because “the Russians have been saving ammunition for a large-scale offensive.”
Military analysts say the Kremlin’s forces may be probing Ukraine defenses for weak points or could be making a feint while preparing for a main thrust through southern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is hungry for some battlefield success, especially securing illegally annexed territory in eastern Ukraine, to mark the anniversary of his invasion on Feb. 24.
Russian forces made gains in the first few months of the war, though they failed to clinch key objectives and were then driven back from large areas by a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Western military help has been essential for Kyiv to fend off a far larger military force.
The government of Norway aims to donate 75 billion kroner ($7.3 billion) in a multi-year support package to Ukraine, making the oil-rich Scandinavian country one of the world’s top donors.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said Monday the money would be used for a military and civilian aid package over a five-year period once parliament gives its approval.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand tweeted late Sunday that the first Leopard tank Canada is donating to Ukraine had arrived in Poland. It is part of a broad tank commitmen t by Ukraine’s Western allies to help it defeat Russia.
Training for Ukrainian military in how to use the tank was due to begin “soon,” Anand said, as the allies race to get Ukraine’s forces ready before the looming offensive.
Ukraine’s presidential office said Monday that at least one civilian had been killed and 10 others wounded by Russian shelling over the past 24 hours.
Five of those wounded were injured during the shelling of Kharkiv city, where Russian shells struck residential buildings and a university, the presidential office said.
The Russians again fired at targets across the Dnieper River from the Russia-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, damaging residential buildings and power lines in Nikopol and Marhanets, Ukrainian authorities reported.
Russian forces occupied Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, early in the war, and regular shelling of the area stoked major safety concerns.
The U.N. nuclear chief is due to visit Moscow this week to discuss safety at Zaporizhzhia.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi aims to “continue his consultations aimed at agreeing and implementing a nuclear safety and security protection zone” around the plant, IAEA spokesman Fredrik Dahl said.
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