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Russia orders troops to step up operations in eastern Ukraine

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered military units to step up operations to prevent strikes on Russian-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine.

In a statement on its website on Saturday, the defense ministry said Shoigu gave the order as he made a surprise visit to Russian troops involved in the ongoing military operation in Ukraine, and met with senior commanding officers to discuss ways to stop Ukrainian attacks on civilians in the eastern region of Donbas.  

“The head of the Russian defense ministry gave the necessary instructions to ramp up the actions of groups in all operational areas in order to exclude the possibility of the Kiev regime to launch massive rocket and artillery strikes on civilian infrastructure and residents of settlements across Donbas and other regions,” the ministry said.

The ministry said Shoigu awarded ‘Gold Star’ medals to Colonel General Alexander Lapin and Major General Esedulla Abachev for “courage and heroism” throughout the conflict.

Russia launched the operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. At the time, President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

Since the start of the war, Russian forces have taken over large swathes of Ukraine, including the complete seizure of the eastern region of Luhansk. Russian troops are now pushing ahead to complete their takeover of the entire Donbas, made up of the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.

Ukraine accuses Russia of hitting the southern city of Nikopol. It says the bombardment has killed dozens of people in recent days. Emergency services claimed two people were killed on the Dnipro River, after regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said the city was hit by more than 50 Russian Grad rockets.

While the focus of the war, now in its fifth month, has moved to Donbas, Russian forces have been striking cities elsewhere in the country with missiles and rockets.

On Friday, Ukraine's Defense Ministry said only 30 percent of Russian strikes are hitting military targets, with the rest landing on civilian sites. Kiev claims about 40 people have been killed in such attacks on urban areas in the past three days. Russia denies targeting civilians.

Moscow accuses Ukraine of shelling its own people in eastern territories it has lost control over.

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