KYIV, Ukraine: Ukraine on Saturday claimed it was holding back a Russian assault in the eastern Donbas region and vowed to extract its last remaining fighters from a besieged steel plant.
The G7 group of the world’s top industrialised nations meanwhile reiterated it would "never recognise" the borders Russia has attempted to redraw through aggression and pledged more sanctions to tighten the screw on Moscow.
Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, however, predicted a turning point in the months ahead, and claimed that one of Europe’s biggest conflicts since World War II could even be over by the end of the year.
Russia, which sent in troops to Ukraine on February 24, has increasingly turned its attention to eastern Ukraine since the end of March, after failing to take the capital Kyiv.
Western analysts believe President Vladimir Putin has his sights on annexing southern and eastern Ukraine in the months ahead but his troops have appeared to be encountering stiff resistance.
The governor of the eastern Lugansk region, Serhiy Gaidai, said Ukrainian forces had prevented Russian attempts to cross a river and encircle the city of Severodonetsk.
"There’s heavy fighting on the border with Donetsk region," Gaidai said, reporting big Russian losses of equipment and personnel.
"From interceptions (phone calls), we understand that a whole (Russian) battalion has refused to attack, because they see what’s happening."
Aerial images showed dozens of destroyed armoured vehicles on the river bank and wrecked pontoon bridges.
UK military intelligence also said Russian forces had sustained heavy losses as they attempted the river crossing.