Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday that his defense forces were in a “painful and difficult” battle in the eastern Donbas region, referring to the fighting in the war-torn city of Bakhmut.

“I would like to pay special tribute to the bravery, strength and resilience of the soldiers fighting in Donbas,” Zelenskyy said in his next speech.

“Thank you, guys! I thank all soldiers, guards and border guards who defend our country in the directions of Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Avdiivka, Siversk, Svatove, Lyman and Zaporizhzhia,” he added.

Two civilians were reported killed in Bakhmut on Sunday, while Kharkiv’s governor, Oleh Syniehubov, said Russian shelling destroyed homes and killed one person in the northern city of Kupiansk.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukrainian troops could carry out a limited and controlled withdrawal from “particularly difficult parts of eastern Bakhmut”, while trying to hamper Russian movement there and limit exit routes to the west.

British military intelligence said Kiev has now sent elite units to the region as Russian troops advance in the city’s northern suburbs.

Capturing Bakhmut would not only give Russian fighters a rare victory on the battlefield after months of setbacks, but could sever Ukraine’s supply lines and allow Kremlin forces to push on to other Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk province.