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Six people were killed after the Russian military shelled a building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Toretsk, Ukrainian emergency service officials said July 18.

“Early in the morning, the city of Toretsk was shelled. A two-story building with people inside was destroyed,” Ukraine’s State Service for Emergencies said in a statement on the social networks.

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“Rescuers found and recovered the bodies of a total of five deceased people. Three people were rescued from the rubble and one died in hospital,” the statement said.

The service posted photographs on social media of rescue workers digging through the rubble and what was left of the devastated building, and said the search for survivors was over.

Toretsk, a city with an estimated population of 30,000, is located about 50 kilometers south of Kramatorsk, one of the last Ukrainian-controlled cities in the industrial east.

The head of the Russian National Defense Management Center, Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, said last week that ammunition depots and armored vehicles had been placed at a school in Toretsk, according to TASS. The claim could not be independently verified.

On July 17, a Ukrainian military official said Russia was preparing for the next stage of its offensive in Ukraine following orders from Moscow to step up military operations. He said Moscow’s main objective was to fully capture eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces – which make up Donbass – but with attacks also occurring in central, northeast and southern parts of the country. Ukraine.

“It’s not just about air and sea missile fire,” said Vadym Skibitskiy, spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence. “We can see shelling all over the line of contact, all over the front line. There is active use of tactical aviation and attack helicopters.

“There is indeed some enemy activation across the entire front line… It is clear that preparations are now underway for the next stage of the offensive.”

Kyiv has said in recent days that its forces are themselves preparing for a massive counter-offensive to reclaim previously lost land, particularly in the south.

On July 18, Ukrainian and US defense officials discussed the situation on the ground ahead of a meeting of the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group scheduled for later this week.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Twitter that he had a phone call with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to discuss the framework for the next meeting.

“We agreed on the agenda, shared info on gun control coming to Ukraine, etc. Also, @SecDef (Austin) has some really good news, but details will come a bit later,” Reznikov said.

The next meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group will take place on 20 July. At the group’s last meeting in May, a total of 47 countries participated and 20 of them announced security assistance programs for Ukraine.

Russian-backed separatists claimed later on July 18 that Siversk, a town about 8 kilometers west of the frontline, was under their control.

Valeriy Zaluzhniy, commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said earlier that the Ukrainian forces managed to stabilize the situation along the frontline.

Zaluzhniy said on Facebook that in a conversation with US General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he explained that the timely arrival of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) provided by the United States had been a factor in maintaining Ukrainian forces. their defensive lines.

“We managed to stabilize the situation. It’s complex, intense, but completely controlled,” Zaluzhniy said on Facebook.

“HIMARS launched targeted strikes on enemy checkpoints, ammunition and fuel storage warehouses,” Zaluzhniy wrote.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced in his overnight video message that 1,028 settlements in Ukraine have been liberated from Russian forces and another 2,621 are still under Russian control.

Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces “were able to inflict significant logistical losses on the occupiers”, making it increasingly difficult for the Russian military to hold positions in captured territory. His claims could not be independently verified.

“Step by step, we are advancing, disrupting the supply of occupants, identifying and neutralizing employees. The prospect is obvious: the Ukrainian flag will be in all our towns and villages. The only question is time,” Zelenskiy said.

With reports from AFP and Reuters

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