The battle for Bakhmut is now the bloodiest of Russia's military intervention in Ukraine. (File_
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday the capture of the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut was key to launching a further offensive in the wider region.
"This city is an important defensive hub for Ukrainian troops in Donbas," Mr Shoigu said of the industrial east of the country.
"Capturing it will allow for further offensive operations deep into the defence lines of the Ukrainian armed forces," he told a televised meeting of military officials.
The battle for Bakhmut is now the longest-running and bloodiest of Russia's year-long military intervention in Ukraine, and both sides have doubled down in the fight for its control.
Bakhmut, an industrial town once known for its sparkling wine production and salt mines, had an estimated pre-war population of some 80,000 people.
But Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told regional media on Tuesday that fewer than 4,000 civilians now remain.
"Approximately 38 children, as far as we know, remain in Bakhmut today," Ms Vereshchuk said.
Both Moscow and Kyiv said on Tuesday that the fight was exacting a huge cost in military personnel on the opposing side.
The Ukrainian military said Moscow's forces were launching attacks on Bakhmut and its outskirts "despite significant losses".
Mr Shoigu meanwhile said there was a "significant increase in losses" among Ukrainian forces during recent fighting for Bakhmut.
Neither side has published official tolls from fighting in the Donetsk region, which Moscow claimed to have annexed into Russia last year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced this week that he had instructed the army to find forces to bolster the defence of Bakhmut.
Analysts says that despite the massive resources being thrown by both sides at the battle, Bakhmut offers little strategic importance in the broader fight.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)