Nearly six months into the war between Russia and Ukraine, fierce fighting is reported in Ukraine's Donetsk as Russian forces further press on with plans to seize the entire eastern region of the Donbass.
On Thursday, heavy clashes were reported around the town of Pisky, located in Pokrovsk district and some 10 kilometers northwest of Donetsk, the capital of a province of the same name.
According to an official with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Pisky was under control of Russian and separatist forces as of Thursday.
“It's hot in Pisky. The town is ours but there remain scattered pockets of resistance in its north and west," Danil Bezsonov said.
Russia began its "special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24, to demilitarize and "de-Nazify" its neighbor and to "liberate" the Donbass, which is composed of the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The Russian military has said it has fully captured Luhansk and has concentrated its efforts to seize the other region.
In 2014, both regions were turned into self-proclaimed republics by ethnic Russians, leading to a bloody conflict between the government forces and the armed separatists. The years-long conflict killed more than 14,000 people, mostly from the Donbass, with Moscow accusing Kiev of committing atrocities against ethnic Russians in the two breakaway regions.
The latest battlefield accounts by the pro-Russia official came as Ukrainian officials have denied that the heavily-fortified Pisky, a key to the defense of Donetsk, has been seized by advancing Russian troops.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in an interview posted on YouTube that Russian "movement into Pisky" had been "without success."
Meanwhile, Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai, interviewed on Ukrainian television, claimed that Moscow had deployed increasing numbers of mercenaries to the region, including from the Wagner private security firm.
"We once had peaceful Ukrainian towns. Now we have been thrust into the Middle Ages. People are now leaving because they are afraid of freezing in the coming winter," he said.
The developments on Thursday came a day after Kiev accused Moscow of using Zaporizhzhia, a nuclear plant, to the west to shield its artillery.
Zaporizhzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world. Russian forces seized the plant soon after the ongoing offensive began. Ukraine accuses Russia of storing heavy weapons in the plant. Moscow accuses Kiev of targeting the facility.
On Wednesday, Kiev accused Moscow of killing 13 people and injuring 10 others with rockets fired from around Zaporizhzhia, adding that it would be risky for Ukraine to return fire.
"The cowardly Russians can't do anything more so they strike towns ignobly hiding at the Zaporizhzhia atomic power station," Andriy Yermak, Zelensky's chief of staff, said on social media.
Kiev claims that some 500 Russian troops with heavy vehicles and weapons are at Zaporizhzhia, where Ukrainian technicians continue to work.
Separately on Wednesday, the Group of Seven (G7) told the Kremlin to hand back the nuclear power plant to Ukraine, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sounded the alarm over a potential nuclear disaster.
Russia has also taken control of the Chernobyl plant, about 100 kilometers north of Kiev, which has been one of the most radioactive locations on earth since it saw an explosion in its fourth reactor in April 1986.