Ukrainian troops are advancing in two directions in the eastern city of Bakhmut but the situation in the city centre is more complicated, deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar said on Saturday.

Ukrainian and Russian officials both say pro-Kyiv forces have started to push back in and around Bakhmut after blunting a months-long offensive by troops loyal to Moscow that left much of the city in ruins.

Russia acknowledged on Friday that its forces had fallen back north of Bakhmut ahead of a long-promised counteroffensive by Ukraine to retake more territory it lost after the start of the war last year.

“Our troops are gradually advancing in two directions in the suburbs of Bakhmut … however, the situation in the city itself is more complicated,” Malyar wrote on Telegram.

“Thanks to the competent planning of the command and the courage of our fighters, the enemy is not able to take the city under its control.”

Russia ‘will feel’ counteroffensive: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Rome for an official visit, did not respond directly when asked when the counteroffensive would start.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking in Rome.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen speaking in Rome on Saturday. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

“I can’t answer this question but you will see the results and Russia will feel them,” he told Italian television.

The fighting in and around Bakhmut recently claimed the lives of two Canadians, both of whom were serving with Ukraine’s International Legion.

Ukraine’s broader battle against the wide-ranging Russian invasion of its borders is now in its 15th month.

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