Fighting continued in the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar on Thursday, with Russian forces using jets and mortars in an unrelenting assault.
Russia's Wagner mercenary group claimed to have taken control of Soledar but Ukrainian officials disputed the claim.
Ukrainian defense officials acknowledged that troops were facing a difficult battle in the town. "The fiercest and heaviest fighting is continuing today in the area of Soledar," Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar told reporters on Thursday.
"Despite the difficult situation, Ukrainian soldiers are fighting stubbornly," she added.
On Thursday, Ukraine said it was sending reinforcements and supplies to Soledar, as well as to the eastern city of Bakhmut.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the move following a meeting in Kyiv with the Ukrainian army's general staff.
Soledar is an important gateway town that could allow Russia to turn their attention to other areas of Donetsk province that remain under Ukrainian control, especially the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut.
Putin stated his goal of seizing the Donbas region, made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, when he launched the invasion last year. Capturing Soledar, a town known for its salt mines, would give Russia and its Wagner group, a rare territorial gain.
The Russian Defense Ministry last evening also announced a change in its military leadership, naming General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, as the top commander of the war.
The previous commander, General Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed the "Butcher of Syria" for his brutal tactics during the Syrian war, was demoted to become Gerasimov's deputy along with two other generals.
Here are other updates concerning the war in Ukraine on January 12:
EU officials to visit Kyiv
More than a dozen senior EU officials will meet with the Ukrainian government in Kyiv on February 2, European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant announced on Thursday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to meet European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on February 3.
Spinant said that the visit demonstrates "the extent of [the EU's] work with Ukraine." She said the delegation would include officials handling portfolios that were relevant to Ukraine, such as "financial matters, the question of EU membership or energy."
Berlin will not stand in way of military support for Ukraine, says German Vice Chancellor
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said that Berlin would not stand in the way of other countries' military support for Ukraine.
"Germany should not stand in the way of other countries taking decisions to support Ukraine, independent of which decisions Germany takes," Habeck said in response to a reporter's question on the topic.
"We make our decisions in coordination with other partners and countries," Habeck added.
Poland offers to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, upping pressure on Germany
Germany faced increasing pressure on Thursday over its hesitancy to send Kyiv battle tanks after Poland said it was willing to do so.
Poland is willing to transfer a company of German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a visit to western Ukraine on Wednesday.
Duda said, however, said that Poland could only transfer them as part of a broader coalition of countries willing to send so-called "main battle tanks" that can destroy other tanks. A company typically consists of 14 tanks.
Zelenskyy said he was "awaiting a joint decision" because "one country cannot provide us with a sufficient number of them."
Berlin would need to sign off on the move to send German-made tanks, but German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said earlier this week that they have not received a request to send the tanks to Ukraine.
Germany last week announced it was going to send Marder infantry fighting vehicles, but pressure is now building for it to supply more powerful battle tanks to Ukraine.
The UK earlier this week said it was ready to send a dozen of its own battle tanks and France has also been reportedly increasing pressure on Berlin to send main battle tanks ahead of a bilateral summit between the leaders of France and Germany on January 22.
Russia reinforces units in Kreminna, says UK Defense Ministry
Heavy fighting has continued the past two days around the towns of Soledar and Kreminna in the eastern Luhansk region, the UK Defense Ministry said in its regular update on the war.
Russia has also "almost certainly" allocated airborne forces to reinforce the Kreminna frontline after assessment, the ministry added.
Kreminna was one of the first towns to be captured by Russian forces in April last year, but Ukrainian forces have recently ramped up efforts to recapture the city.
The British ministry said Moscow focused efforts on capturing Kherson until November, when it withdrew its troops in a major military setback.
HRW praises international response to Ukraine war, calls out EU's double standards
Human Rights Watch in its annual report praised the international response to the war in Ukraine, adding that it also exposed the "double standards" of most EU countries.
The report called out the EU for a lack of similar response to the "ongoing treatment of countless Syrians, Afghans, Palestinians, Somalis and others seeking asylum."
rm/rs (Reuters, AFP, AP)