DONETSK, Ukraine — After days of street battles and weeks of shelling, Ukrainian troops made significant gains Wednesday into rebel-held territory, capturing a large part of the city of Luhansk and nearly encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, in fighting that left at least 52 dead.
Ukrainian troops have been trying for weeks to drive the rebels out of Luhansk and cut off Donetsk, a city of 1 million that has shrunk by a third as frightened residents fled. In the past few days, several neighborhoods in Donetsk have been hit with artillery fire and fighting on the city's outskirts has become more intense.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, told reporters Wednesday in Kiev that government forces were now in control of "significant parts" of Luhansk, an eastern city just 12 miles from the Russian border.
Hard-hit Luhansk has been without electricity, running water or phone connections for 18 days because of the fighting between government forces and pro-Russia separatists. Russia has sent an aid convoy to help the residents there, but it's still stuck at the border, not yet approved by Kiev because its proposed route lies through rebel-held territory.
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