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Russian forces focus efforts on Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine

Priest Andrii Gavalin presides over the funeral of Eugene Bogdanov, 35, in Bucha, Ukraine, on May 10. Bogdanov went missing two months ago. His wife, Natalia Bogdanova, was searching for him throughout the Kyiv and Bucha regions when his body was found at a morgue in Belaya Tserkov on May 9. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

May 25 (UPI) -- Russian forces have focused their efforts on attacking and capturing the city of Severodonetsk in the Donbas region of Ukraine, local officials said Wednesday.

Serhiy Haidai, head of the regional military administration in Luhansk province, said Severodonetsk is the last major city in the province not already under Russian control. Luhansk and Donetsk provinces make up the greater Donbas region, which Russia recognizes as separate from Ukraine.

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"Severodonetsk is barely alive," Haidai told The New York Times. "They are killing our cities, destroying everything."

He said a bombing Tuesday killed six people in Severodonetsk. Meanwhile, a Russian strike on the nearby town of Kramatorsk destroyed an apartment building.

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Russian forces are seeking to gain greater control of eastern Ukraine to create an overland route to the Crimea Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Haidai warned, though, that Luhansk hasn't been completely cut off, the BBC reported. He said Ukrainian forces are attempting to prevent Russia from capturing the road to Bakhmut, which would allow Russia to surround Severodonetsk.

As of now, Haidai said, humanitarian aid still was getting through to the city. Some 15,000 civilians remain there.

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Haidai accused Russia of attacking civilian infrastructure in Severodonetsk.

"They can't take the city, so they have decided to try to destroy it and to make our troops leave the city," he said.

The Institute for the Study of War think tank in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday that Moscow most likely plans to make smaller gains in the east.

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"Russian forces have likely abandoned efforts to complete a single large encirclement of Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine and are instead attempting to secure smaller encirclements, enabling them to make incremental, measured gains."

In an update Wednesday, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said 3,974 civilians have been killed and 4,654 injured since the start of fighting in February. Most of the casualties were caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area.

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