(Reuters) – Ukraine reported on Monday its troops had recaptured more territory on the eastern front and advanced in the south in its military counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said Kyiv’s forces had retaken two square km (0.77 square mile) of land in the past week around the shattered eastern city of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian troops in May after months of fighting.

Kyiv’s forces also recaptured two villages on the southern flank of the city, Andriivka and Klishchiivka, Maliar said.

Both cities lie on higher ground and their capture could set the stage to reasserting control over the pivotal city.

Kyiv’s troops have liberated 51 square km (19 square miles) near Bakhmut since the start of the counteroffensive, Maliar said.

Further south in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian troops continued to hold back a Russian offensive towards the towns of Avdiivka and Maryinka, Maliar said.

Ukrainian forces are trying to advance toward the Sea of Azov in a southern drive intended to split Russian forces retook 5.2 square km (two square miles) in the past week, said Maliar.

Overall, Ukraine regained more than 260 square km (100 square miles) in the south during the counteroffensive, she said.

During its three-month-old counteroffensive, Ukraine has reported slow, steady progress against entrenched Russian positions, retaking a string of villages and advancing on the flanks of Bakhmut, but taking no major settlements.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other officials have dismissed Western critics who say the offensive is too slow and hampered by strategic errors.

Reuters was not able to verify the reports and Russia has not confirmed the Ukrainian advances.

(Reporting by Anna Pruchnicka; Editing by Michael Perry)

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