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Two civilians killed and 18 wounded in a cruise missile strike in Kharkov, the prosecutor’s office said

Firefighters drive to a factory fire after a Russian attack on the outskirts of Kharkov, Ukraine, on April 15. (Felipe Dana / AP)

Russian attacks have intensified in a number of places in eastern Ukraine, including Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk, according to Ukrainian military and regional officials.

Russian forces appear to be shelling heavily in all three regions ahead of a planned ground offensive.

Around Slobozhansky, a region south of Kharkiv, “Russia’s main focus is on regrouping and strengthening troops,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said.

Russian forces are seeking to blockade the city of Kharkiv, which is still under constant fire, and have concentrated up to 22 battalion tactical groups around Izyum, the General Staff added. A battalion tactical group usually consists of about 1,000 soldiers.

“The main efforts of the enemy are aimed at maintaining the previously occupied positions,” the statement said, noting the deployment of additional Russian units.

In the Donetsk region, Russian efforts have focused on capturing the towns of Popasna and Rubezhne, while establishing full control of the strategic port city of Mariupol, it added.

The General Staff also spoke of constant fire against Ukrainian positions around Popasna, saying that Russian forces were “trying to improve the tactical situation, to advance deep into the settlement of Popasna”, but were eventually thwarted.

It reported intensified shelling around the city of Severodonetsk, “with the aim of inflicting losses, depleting our troops and possibly preparing for offensive operations”, as well as shelling south of Toretsk.

A man was killed in Kremina, northwest of Severodonetsk, a local official said.

Efforts continue to ensure the safety of residents of the towns of Rubezhne and Kremina amid heavy fighting in the area, said Sergei Haidai, head of the Luhansk regional administration. He added that there is no water or gas in Severodonetsk.

During the last 24 hours, 10 Russian enemy attacks were stopped in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the General Staff added.

“The main events we will talk about in the coming days, or rather weeks, will be events related to the fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass,” Vadim Denisenko, an adviser at Ukraine’s interior ministry, said on Saturday.

Russian missile attacks have spread to other areas outside Donbass, Ukrainian authorities say.

One person was killed in an attack in a village near the town of Poltava, said Dmitry Lunin, head of the Poltava military administration.

The country’s top general said he spoke with a senior US military official on Friday.

Valery Zaluzhny said he had discussed “heavy fighting on the Kharkiv-Izyum border, deterrence of the Russian offensive in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the critical situation around Mariupol and rocket fire in Ukraine” with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milli .

“I reaffirmed the urgent needs of Ukraine’s armed forces for weapons and ammunition to strengthen our defense capabilities,” Zaluzhny added.

The news comes as Russian preparations in eastern Ukraine for an offensive operation continue.