Russian forces are pressing ahead with their months-long military offensive to capture eastern Ukraine, with the former Soviet country calling for a Western-led ban on all Russians amid heavy fighting between the two sides.
Media reports said the frontline towns near the eastern city of Donetsk were the scene of fierce clashes on Tuesday, with Ukrainian officials stressing Russian forces were launching waves of attacks as they tried to seize control of the Donbass region.
"The situation in the region is tense — shelling is constant throughout the front line... The enemy is also using airstrikes a great deal," Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, told Ukrainian television. "The enemy is having no success. Donetsk region is holding."
The Ukrainian military also announced that it had repelled ground assaults in the direction of the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in Donetsk and had destroyed Russian reconnaissance units, including near Bakhmut.
Local reports said Russian troops had captured a factory on the edge of the eastern town of Soledar in Bakhmut, and that pro-Russia forces were in the process of "clearing out" the heavily fortified village of Pisky.
Russia launched the military offensive in Ukraine in late February. Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time that one of the goals of the invasion was to "de-Nazify" Ukraine. Western countries have responded by backing Ukraine with cash and increasingly heavy weaponry while imposing sanctions against Moscow.
The conflict has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 13 million, creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
'Ban all Russians’
In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky urged the West to impose a blanket ban on Russians, including those who have fled Russia since February 24.
"Whichever kind of Russian... make them go to Russia," Zelensky was quoted as saying. "They'll understand then. They'll say, 'This war has nothing to do with us. The whole population can't be held responsible, can it?' It can."
The Kremlin dismissed Zelensky's call for a ban as irrational, saying that Europe would ultimately have to decide if it wanted to pay the bills for his "whims."
"Any attempt to isolate Russia or Russians is a process that has no prospects," said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov ruled out on Monday the possibility of a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents over the long-running crisis in the former Soviet country, saying such a summit would be convened only after negotiators from both sides have "done their homework."
Negotiations between Moscow and Kiev over the conflict have been stalled for months, with each side blaming the other for a lack of progress.