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And to the east, Russian reconnaissance units attempted to scout Ukrainian artillery positions with the aim of destroying them and seizing higher ground behind the city. “We are in a hurry closer to the city,” said Oleksandr Voronenko, a military police officer in Lysychansk. “As long as there is a corridor between Siversk and Lysychansk, we will stand.”

As Russia appears to have made gains in the Donbass, Ukraine has vowed a counterattack on Russian-occupied territory in the southern Kherson region, despite the risks to civilians in the territory.

This week, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged civilians to flee – even to Crimea, the peninsula seized by Russia in 2014 – rather than try to survive fighting in places where Russian forces amassed significant defences.

“We know that today it’s almost the only available humanitarian corridor, if you can call it that, that can be used to leave,” Ms Vereshchuk told a news conference. “So, if possible, get out of there, especially if you have children.”

Russia’s gains have left towns and cities like husks of ash, bombed, deserted and often lined with freshly dug graves. Ukrainian officials have estimated that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and recently said that 100 to 200 soldiers are dying every day.

The Russian government has largely kept silent about its victims during the war, leaving families uncertain whether their sons, brothers and spouses are dead or alive – even weeks after major public losses, such as the sinking of the ship Moskva war. The Defense Ministry, in its latest casualty announcement on March 25, put the death toll at 1,351. In April, Western officials estimated that Russia had lost 15,000 troops. Last week, Ukraine put the Russian death toll at 33,000. None of these numbers can be independently corroborated.

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