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Ukrainian forces are pushing towards an important highway as they make gradual territorial advances in the Luhansk region, one of four areas illegally annexed by Russia in September, according to both the Ukrainian military and Russian military bloggers.

The Ukrainian advance focuses on a road running south from the Russian border to parts of Luhansk captured by Russian forces early in the summer. 

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Ukrainian officials say the road is already under their fire control, meaning that Russian military traffic uses it at high risk.

“We hit everything that can move there,” said Ukrainian military spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi on Monday. “We do not allow the enemy to move personnel, military equipment, or ammunition through it.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense said Tuesday that Ukrainian attacks in the area were being repelled, northwest of the town of Svatove. And Russian military bloggers say that the Russian units defending the line have inflicted heavy casualties on Ukrainian forces. 

Senior Ukrainian military official Serhii Hayday told CNN at the weekend that recently liberated villages in the area were being shelled constantly. Ukrainian officials say another obstacle is extensive mining by Russian forces. 

Hayday, who is head of the regional military administration, said Monday that the Russians “did have some plans for a counter-offensive, but these plans were ruined by [our] offensive actions, so most probably we won’t see any attacks from their side.”

Hayday also claimed that the Russian units in the area were “freshly mobilized and ex-convicts, people who had civilian professions, who have no military experience and have no coordination among themselves.”

At least one Russian officer serving with a reserve unit in the area has said he expects further Ukrainian attacks towards Svatove imminently. The officer said Ukrainian forces had increased their “grouping” near the town in a post on Telegram.

Denis Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said late Tuesday that the situation along the Donetsk/Luhansk border “remains one of the toughest ones.”

Another target of Ukrainian forces is the city of Kreminna in Luhansk. Social media videos and comments by Russian military bloggers indicate the Ukrainians have pushed forward north of the city, complicating efforts to defend it. Kreminna and other settlements in the area suffered widespread destruction in the spring as Russian forces and their allies pushed westwards. 

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces continued to launch artillery strikes and mortars against several recently liberated settlements close to the north-south highway. 

While Ukrainian forces are slowly pushing forward in the area, analysts don’t expect any rapid breakthroughs given the scale of artillery and other indirect fire from Russian defensive lines, which were reinforced after Russian forces were routed from much of neighboring Kharkiv in September.

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