(Reuters) - Russia and Ukraine on Saturday disputed control of the devastated village of Andriivka near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, as Ukraine ramped up its efforts to inch closer to reassert control over the pivotal city.
Russia's Defence Minister dismissed a Ukrainian claim to have recaptured Andriivka, which Kyiv has portrayed as a stepping stone to the larger city.
The commander of Ukraine's land forces posted a video purporting to show the capture of Andriivka amid a landscape of scorched territory and desolation.
And a military spokesperson said Ukrainian troops were making headway in both the east and south -- the two main theatres of Ukraine's counteroffensive in the 18-month-old war against Russian invaders.
The account of fighting by Russia's Defence Ministry said its troops were still holding at least two key villages south of Bakhmut, known in Russia by its Soviet-era name, Artyomovsk.
"The enemy did not abandon plans to capture the city of Artyomovsk of the Donetsk People's Republic and continued to conduct assault operations ... unsuccessfully trying to oust Russian troops from the population centres of Klishchiivka and Andriivka," the ministry said in its daily briefing.
Andriivka lies south of Bakhmut, also largely ruined. The city was a mainly symbolic prize that Russian forces seized in May after the fiercest and longest battle since Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The report said Russian forces had, in the past week, repelled 16 Ukrainian attacks in the sector, with enemy losses at more than 1,700 dead and wounded, along with 16 tanks.
Ukrainian General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of land forces, posted a video on Telegram that he said provided evidence Kyiv's forces were in full control of Andriivka.
The video shows Ukrainian soldiers advancing on empty devastated ground marked by the burned remnants of trees and taking cover in the shattered hulks of buildings reduced to rubble. Another video showed trucks driving at high speed down a deserted road.
DESTROYED BEYOND RECOGNITION
A correspondent for Ukraine's Hromadske radio said the destruction in Andriivka made the village unrecognisable.
"We know that Andriivka is so badly destroyed that soldiers do not even know where to place the pole with the Ukrainian flag," correspondent Yanina Lvutina said on the radio's website.
Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said the Bakhmut sector was the theatre of "the most active fighting".
"Offensive action is continuing south of Bakhmut. Things are hot in Klishchiivka and Kurdiumivka," Maliar said on Telegram, referring to two other villages near the city.
"Near Klishchiivka, as a result of offensive action, our defence forces have had successes."
Ukraine's General Staff on Friday had reported the capture of Andriivka after days of uncertainty. It also reported "partial success" near Klishchiivka.
Prominent Ukrainian military analyst Oleksandr Musiyenko told Ukrainian television that capturing Andriivka would allow the military "to advance from the southern flank in the Bakhmut area, gaining control of the heights."
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.
Maliar also reported that Russian forces had unsuccessfully tried to push through Ukrainian defences near two villages northwest of Bakhmut.
She said Ukrainian troops were holding their positions near two other cities further south subjected to heavy Russian attacks in recent days - Avdiivka and Maryinka.
In the south, where Ukraine's forces aim to push to the Sea of Azov, Maliar said Kyiv's troops were "inflicting significant losses on the occupiers in terms of men and equipment".
Ukraine hopes to sever a land bridge Russia has created between annexed Crimea and territory it holds in the east.
(Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Daniel Wallis)