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Ukraine tried to push back Russian troops in the east and south on June 10 as France offered to help secure access to the port of Odessa to allay fears of a global grain crisis.

Fierce fighting continued in the eastern region of Donbass, where President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were “holding on” as Moscow concentrated its firepower there.

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The fiercest fighting is taking place around the eastern industrial city of Syevyerodonetsk, a battle which Zelenskiy says is crucial for the fate of the Donbass region.

Ukrainian forces now control about a third of the key city despite Russia sending overwhelming numbers of troops and equipment into the battle, officials said.

Pro-Russian rebels said they surrounded the Azot chemical plant in Syevyerodonetsk, trapping a small group of Ukrainian forces there.

Rodion Miroshnik, an official in what separatists call the Luhansk People’s Republic, said on Telegram that all escape routes had been cut off. Miroshnik acknowledged the possibility that civilians could still take shelter at the besieged site.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said Russia was looking for weak points in Ukrainian defenses near the Siverskiy Donets River. He told state television on June 10 that Russian forces had not given up on attempts to launch assault operations in the region.

Some areas of the Zaporizhzhya region have been placed under an extended curfew due to “active hostilities in the region and the real threat to life and safety”, authorities said.

The curfew will be held from 10 p.m. on June 11 to 5 a.m. on June 13 in Vasylivka, Berdyansk, Melitopol and Pologi districts.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its June 10 evening report that Russian troops launched airstrikes on several towns in the Donetsk region using Su-25 aircraft, Ka-52 helicopters and Mi-8 helicopters.

The General Staff declared that the Russian units were prepares to resume an offensive on the eastern city of Sloviansk, firing artillery at several towns.

None of the reports of the fighting could be independently verified.

Zelenskiy’s senior aide, Mykhaylo Podolyak, said that due to Russia’s unbalanced advantage in heavy artillery, Ukraine was losing between 100 and 200 soldiers a day on the front line.

The figure put forward by Podolyak was higher than an earlier estimate by Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, who said on June 9 that Ukraine was losing 100 soldiers a day and another 500 were injured. The discrepancy between the numbers seems to indicate the difficulty of obtaining accurate battlefield information.

Podolyak told the BBC that Ukraine needed hundreds of Western artillery systems to level the playing field with Russia in the Donbass.

Ukraine has also requested humanitarian aid to fight an outbreak of dysentery and cholera in the port city of Mariupol, which has been reduced to rubble.

Mayor Vadym Boychenko told state television that sewage systems were broken and corpses were rotting in the streets.

“Unfortunately… these outbreaks of infection will claim thousands more Mariupolites,” Boychenko said.

He called on the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to work to set up a humanitarian corridor to allow the remaining residents to leave the town, which is now under Russian control.

The UK Ministry of Defense said earlier on June 10 in its daily intelligence bulletin that there was a risk of a major cholera outbreak in Mariupol.

The bulletin says isolated cases of cholera have been reported in Mariupol since last month. British intelligence also assessed that Russia was struggling to provide basic public services to people in the territories it occupied in Ukraine.

Ukraine and Russia conducted another prisoner exchange, Mykolaiv regional governor Vitaliy Kim said on Telegram. The swap involved four Russian captives for five Ukrainians, including a village chief who was “kidnapped” by Russian forces on March 10, he said.

As Ukrainian grain deliveries increased day by day, an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron said France was ready to participate in an operation to allow safe access to Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa.

The port has been under a de facto blockade by Russia, and grain is waiting to be exported amid growing fears of global food shortages, particularly in developing countries.

“We are at the disposal of the parties to put in place an operation that would allow safe access to the port of Odessa, that is to say the passage of boats despite the fact that the sea is mined”, has said an adviser to Macron, who asked not to be named.

Macron’s office announced that the French president would visit Moldova and Romania next week to express France’s solidarity with the two allies.

Macron will visit French troops in Romania on June 14 and travel to Moldova the next day.

With reports from AFP, BBC, Reuters, dpa and AP

Rose D. Jones