More than 60 percent of Bakhmut has been destroyed, a Ukrainian official says.

The protracted and bloody battle for Bakhmut has destroyed more than half the city in eastern Ukraine, a local official said on Thursday.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Ukrainian military administration for the Donetsk region, which includes Bakhmut, said Ukrainian troops are holding off Russian forces, but defending the city has come at a cost amid “constant shelling.” .

“The city itself suffers from this,” Kyrylenko said on Ukrainian television. “It is more than 60 percent destroyed.” Two people were killed there by Russian artillery fire the day before, he added. The claims could not be independently verified.

Russia has continued to push forward with an offensive aimed at capturing Bakhmut, after suffering a series of setbacks elsewhere in Ukraine in recent months. The city remains one of the main targets of the Russian military, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said. said thursday.

As the battle for Bakhmut has become one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war, and losses for both sides have mounted, Ukraine’s defense of the devastated city has taken on symbolism that outweighs its military importance, with ” Hold Bakhmut” emerging as a rallying cry for the homeland.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who made a bold visit to the city in December, again expressed gratitude in his overnight speech for the troops defending it, calling them “Warriors”.

Amid the incessant sounds of incoming and outgoing fire, at least 90 percent of the city’s prewar population of 73,000 have fled.

Donetsk is one of four Ukrainian regions that the Kremlin illegally annexed in September, even as its troops were losing ground there. Since then, fighting in the region has become bloody work, as Ukrainian forces search for places to press their advantage, while the Russians build trenches and fortifications along the front lines and try to capture Bakhmut.

The Russian force fighting in Donetsk is made up in part of fighters from the Wagner Group, a private military contracting company, and includes convicts who have been promised pardons in exchange for fighting for Moscow in Ukraine. Trench warfare has swung back and forth over Bakhmut’s outlying districts and nearby villages, with advances and retreats on both sides often measured in hundreds of metres.