Intense fighting in east Ukraine as Europe pledges more aid

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KYIV (AFP, REUTERS) - Intense fighting raged in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region where Russia has been concentrating its forces without making significant progress, while "very difficult negotiations" were under way over the fate of the last besieged defenders in the city of Mariupol.

Europe on Friday pledged another half a billion euros (S$725 million) in military support for Ukraine as it resists the Russian invasion that began on Feb 24.

At the end of March, after failing to take the capital Kyiv in the face of determined resistance, Russia turned its focus to eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces have repulsed Russian attempts to cross a river and encircle the city of Severodonetsk, said Mr Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the eastern Luhansk region.

"There's heavy fighting on the border with Donetsk region, from the side of Popasna," he said, reporting heavy losses of equipment and personnel by the Russians. "From interceptions (phone calls), we understand that a whole (Russian) battalion has refused to attack because they see what's happening."

Aerial images showed dozens of destroyed armoured vehicles on the river bank and wrecked pontoon bridges.

Britain's Ministry of Defence said the Russians had sustained heavy losses after Ukrainian forces successfully prevented their attempted river crossing.

"Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky manoeuvre and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine," it said.

Russia's hopes of swift gains appear to have been thwarted and Ukraine has even managed to push Russian troops out of the northern city of Kharkiv, which had been a priority target for Moscow.

In Kharkiv region, "the enemy's main efforts are focused on ensuring the withdrawal of its units from the city of Kharkiv", said the spokesman for the Ukrainian General Staff.

"The gradual liberation of the Kharkiv region proves that we will not leave anyone to the enemy," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily video address on Friday.

"We do not stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal," he said. "Currently, very difficult negotiations are under way on the next stage of the evacuation mission - the rescue of the seriously wounded, medics. It is a large number of people."

Women, children and the elderly who had ta...

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