A top commander of the pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine said Saturday that Ukrainian forces have seized a key town, leaving the rebel region's largest city of Donetsk surrounded.
The statement by Igor Girkin, a former Russian special service officer better known by his nom de guerre of Strelkov, appears to be a significant admission by the rebels that Ukrainian forces are gaining the upper hand in the four-month-old fight.
Strelkov said the town of Krasnyi Luch, which lies on one of the two main roads between Donetsk and the rebel-held east's other main city of Luhansk, "has been taken by the enemy."
"The Donetsk-Horlivka group of the fighters of Novorossiya is completely surrounded," he said on a rebel social media page. Novosrossiya, or New Russia, is a term widely used for the rebel region.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation, Andriy Lysenko, told reporters Saturday that he could not confirm the claim that Krasnyi Luch was under the forces' control.
In Donetsk, a spokesman for the city administration said at least one person was killed and several injured in shelling of the city's southern area on Saturday. Spokesman Maxim Rovninsky also told The Associated Press that about 30 apartment blocks came under fire during the night.
The city, whose population was nearly 1 million before the fighting, has increasingly come under fire over the past weeks. Ukrainian officials firmly deny that they are shelling civilians, but rebels claim the forces are doing just that and trying to shift blame to the separatists.
Explosions were also heard Saturday on the northern outskirts near the city's airport.
As the fighting proceeds, concerns are rising about a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Luhansk, where fighting has been heavier and more prolonged.
Russian news agencies quoted a Saturday statement from the Luhansk city administration saying that the city has been without water and electricity for a week and that most of its stores are closed.
Read Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more on this story.