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Russia-backed official escapes blast in Mariupol, as Moscow presses its offensive in east

By Jeffrey Gettleman


A Russia-backed mayor in the occupied southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol was nearly hit by an explosion Saturday as he walked into the city’s zoo, Russian state TV reported.


The mayor was unharmed, the reports said. The episode came amid claims that Ukraine is increasingly deploying secret agents within Russia-held territory to target officials it sees as traitors.


At the same time, Ukrainian officials said Sunday that Russian troops were attacking all along the front line in eastern Ukraine, where its offensive has been met with increasing resistance. A morning update listed dozens of assaults in the past day, and said that Russian forces were pounding Ukrainian positions and civilian areas with warplanes, artillery guns, mortars and rockets.


Russian ground troops were assaulting Pisky, a village near the main airport in Donetsk province, and Russian warplanes were striking towns nearby, according to Ukrainian officials. Military analysts say Moscow still aims to capture all of Donetsk, although it has made little progress since seizing the neighboring province of Luhansk in July. The city of Bakhmut remains in Ukrainian hands but is mostly deserted, much of it in ruins.


“They have focused all their efforts on the Bakhmut direction, but they have not achieved any serious victories or advances on the front for almost two months,” said Serhiy Haidai, a Ukrainian regional official in the east.


In southern Ukraine, Russian forces were trying to advance toward Mykolaiv, a key Ukrainian stronghold. The city’s mayor, Oleksandr Sienkevych, warned residents Sunday morning to seek shelter as loud explosions were reported in the area. The mayor offered no further details.

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