A UN humanitarian convoy has reached an area close to the town of Soledar in east Ukraine, where some of the fiercest fighting in the country has taken place in recent weeks.
“Our colleagues in Ukraine have just reached government-controlled areas close to Soledar in eastern Donetsk oblast,” Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters in Geneva. “This is the first interagency convoy to reach this area since the war began.”
Laerke said the three-truck convoy had set off early on Friday from Dnipro carrying food, water, hygiene kits and medical supplies for 800 people.
The Soledar area has been the scene of intense and continuing fighting even after a Russian claim that it had been taken, which is disputed by Ukraine. Russian forces have incurred heavy casualties, with Ukrainian forces holding defensive lines outside the town and continuing to strike Russian troops inside it.
Before last week an estimated 500 civilians were still in Soledar although it was unclear how many remained.
The convoy had reached an area close to the embattled saltmining town and the team was in the process of offloading the aid, Laerke said.
“Recent fighting in and around Soledar has caused widespread destruction, leaving people there in dire need of humanitarian assistance,” he said, specifying that the aid was destined for civilians.
Laerke said the UN hoped to be able to bring more convoys into the area, but that “access is something that needs to be assessed on a day-to-day basis”.
“We hope to reach them again because when aid such as food and other materials come in, of course that will run out,” he said. “That lasts for a certain period of time and then we need to return.”
Asked whether a subsequent convoy may enter Soledar itself, he said it remained unclear. “It remains, as usual, conditioned by the security situation on the ground whether such a convoy could potentially move ahead in the future.”
Both sides have suffered heavy losses in Soledar. Russian control of the town would improve its forces’ position as they push toward what has been their target for months, the nearby transport crossroads of Bakhmut.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday its forces had taken control of Klishchiivka, a settlement south of Bakhmut. The village is about 6 miles (9km) south of Bakhmut, where units of Russia’s Wagner private militia have been locked for months in a battle of attrition with Ukrainian forces. However, Ukraine reported little change in the lines of conflict in the area on Friday morning.
The arrival of the convoy came as a pro-Russian official, Vladimir Rogov, said on Telegram that fighting had “sharply increased” in the southern Ukraine region of Zaporizhzhia, where the front has been largely stagnant for months.
Rogov and the Russian army said Moscow’s forces had seized the village of Lobkove, about 30 miles (50km) south of the Ukrainian-held regional capital, also called Zaporizhzhia.
“Lobkove is ours,” Rogov said.
He added that Russian forces had fired at Ukrainian positions with tanks, mortar and artillery in a dozen villages in the region. The Ukrainian army said on Friday that more than 20 settlements had been attacked.
A day earlier Rogov had announced a “local offensive” in the region near the town of Orikhiv.
Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report