Russia says two commanders killed as Kyiv wages Bakhmut offensive

Ukrainian servicemen are seen after a fight near the front line city of Bakhmut

(Reuters) -Russia's Defence Ministry said on Sunday that two of its military commanders were killed in eastern Ukraine, as Kyiv's forces renewed efforts to break through Russian defences in the embattled city of Bakhmut.

In a daily briefing, the ministry said that Commander Vyacheslav Makarov of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade and Deputy Commander Yevgeny Brovko from a separate unit were killed trying to repel Ukrainian attacks.

It said that Makarov had been leading troops from the front line, and that Brovko "died heroically, suffering multiple shrapnel wounds". The defence ministry rarely announces the deaths of military command in its daily briefings.

It also said Ukrainian forces waged attacks in the north and south of Bakhmut over the past 24 hours, but that they had not broken through Russian defences. "All attacks by units of Ukraine's armed forces have been repelled," it said.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary force which has spearheaded much of the Russian advance on Bakhmut, said his forces had advanced up to 130 metres (400 feet) over the past 24 hours.

Prigozhin, in an audio statement on Telegram, said his forces controlled 28 multi-story buildings in western districts of Bakhmut where Ukrainian troops were still operating.

Ukrainian forces, he said, were holding 20 buildings and a total area of 1.69 square km (0.65 square miles).

Reuters was not able to independently verify Russia's account.

Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar confirmed on Sunday that Ukrainian forces "continue to move forward in the Bakhmut sector in the suburbs."

"Our units captured more than ten enemy positions in the north and south of Bakhmut and cleared a large area of forest near Ivanivske. Enemy soldiers from different units were captured," she said on the Telegram messaging app.

Neither Ukraine nor Russian forces have been able to take full control of the city, despite months of grinding warfare that has inflicted heavy losses on both sides.

Moscow acknowledged on Friday that its forces had fallen back north of Bakhmut amid a surge of Ukrainian attacks, but Kyiv has played down suggestions a huge, long-planned counteroffensive has officially begun.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Ros Russell, Ron Popeski and Lisa Shumaker)