Russian forces intensify pressure on Ukraine's Avdiivka, Kherson

A view shows the town of Avdiivka

(Reuters) - Russian forces aiming to contain a four-month-old Ukrainian counteroffensive maintained unrelenting pressure on Sunday on the shattered town of Avdiivka in the east and intensified shelling in the southern area of Kherson.

Russia has focused on the industrial east since pulling back from a failed advance on Kyiv at the start of the February 2022 invasion and its forces have tried to maintain positions in Kherson since abandoning the region's main town late last year.

The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces, in its evening report, said Ukrainian forces repelled nearly 20 Russian attacks around Avdiivka, its buildings now largely reduced to shells. Russian air strikes hit nearby villages, it said.

Avdiivka has become a watchword for resistance, viewed as the gateway to recapturing the Russian-held city of Donetsk and the rest of Donbas -- made up of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

It was briefly seized in 2014 when Russian-backed separatists captured swathes of eastern Ukraine, but was later retaken by Ukrainian forces who, in the ensuing nine years, have built solid fortifications.

"It is true that Avdiivka has significance," Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for the Ukraine Defence Ministry's Intelligence Directorate, told the Espreso TV news outlet.

"This is not the first instance the occupying forces have boosted tension with declarations of taking over all of Donetsk and Luhansk...Their plans have failed, the deadlines pushed back. This is just another episode of tension."

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation in Avdiivka and the nearby town of Maryinka was "particularly tough. Numerous Russian attacks. But our positions are being held.

"Every day, we need results for Ukraine, to withstand Russian assaults, to eliminate occupiers, to move forward," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. "Whether it's a kilometre or 500 metres, but forward, every day."

Russian military accounts made no mention of Avdiivka, but described successful operations against Ukrainian positions to the east in Bakhmut, seized by Moscow in May after months of fighting.

In Kherson, regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said several villages had been struck in shelling episodes, as had transport and food production sites in the city of Kherson.

Reuters could not independently verify the accounts from either side.

Russian forces routinely shell Kherson and villages on the western bank of the Dnipro from positions on the eastern bank, where they retreated late last year.

The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War has reported in the past week that Ukrainian forces have crossed the Dnipro to take up new positions of their own and pursue Russian forces.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Oleksandr Kozhukhar; editing by Diane Craft)