Ukraine has warned Russia is stepping up its military operations as Vladimir Putin’s troops prepare for the next stage of its offensive.
In the last week, the number of Russian strikes has intensified and killed dozens, and a Ukrainian military official has predicted it could increase more.
Vadym Skibitskyi, a spokesperson for Ukrainian military intelligence, said: “There is an active use of tactical aviation and attack helicopters.
“Clearly preparations are now underway for the next stage of the offensive.”
Ukraine says at least 40 people have been killed in Russian shelling of urban areas in the last three days.
Rockets hit the northeastern town of Chuhuiv on Friday night, killing three people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others, said regional governor Oleh Synehubov.
“Three people lost their lives, why? What for? Because Putin went mad?” said Raisa Shapoval, 83, a distraught resident sitting in the ruins of her home.
To the south, more than 50 Russian Grad rockets pounded the city of Nikopol on the Dnipro River, killing two people who were found in the rubble, said governor Valentyn Reznichenko.
The Ukrainian military said Russia appeared to be regrouping units for an offensive towards Sloviansk, a symbolically important city held by Ukraine in the eastern region of Donetsk.
The British defense ministry said on Sunday that Russia was reinforcing its defensive positions across the areas it occupies in southern Ukraine after pressure from Ukrainian forces and pledges from Ukrainian leaders to force Russia out.
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu ordered military units to intensify operations to prevent counter-strikes on eastern Ukraine and other areas held by Russia, where he said Kyiv could hit civilian infrastructure or residents, according to a statement from the ministry.
His remarks appeared to be a direct response to what Kyiv says is a string of successful strikes carried out on 30 Russian logistics and ammunition hubs, using several multiple launch rocket systems recently supplied by the West.
The strikes are causing havoc with Russian supply lines and have significantly reduced Russia’s offensive capability, Ukraine’s defense ministry spokesperson said on Friday.
Russian-backed separatists said Ukraine had hit the town of Alchevsk, east of Sloviansk, with six US-made high mobility artillery rockets on Saturday. The self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) said the strikes had killed two civilians and damaged a bus warehouse, health camp and apartments.
There was no immediate response from Ukraine, which says it only targets military infrastructure.
Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.