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KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine said on Wednesday that Russia had started creating a military strike force aimed at President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's hometown of Kryvyi Rih and warned that Moscow could be preparing new offensive operations in southern Ukraine.
Russia holds swathes of Ukraine's south that it captured in the early phases of its Feb. 24 invasion, but Kyiv has said it will mount a counter-offensive. It said on Tuesday it had already recaptured 53 villages in occupied Kherson region.
In its regular update on the war in the south, Ukraine's southern military command described the situation as tense and said Russia attacked along the frontline on Aug. 2.
The steel-producing city of Kryvyi Rih where Zelenskiy grew up lies around 50 km (30 miles) from the southern frontline.
"(Russia) has begun creating a strike group in the Kryvyi Rih direction. It's also quite likely that the enemy is preparing a hostile counter-offensive with the subsequent plan of getting to the administrative boundary of Kherson region," the southern military command said.
Ukraine has been trying to ratchet up pressure on Russia's positions in the strategically important Black Sea region of Kherson and has used Western-supplied long-range weapons to conduct strikes on Russian supply lines and ammunition dumps.
Ukraine's military said in a statement that Russian forces were scoping out basements in the region to turn them into bomb shelters to store military hardware.
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy described the fighting on parts of the eastern frontline in the heavily industrialised Donbas as "just hell" in his nightly address to the nation.
Russia has not claimed any major territorial gains in its invasion since it claimed to have captured Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region around a month ago.
But on Tuesday Ukraine's military command acknowledged that Russia had had "partial success" in the "Donetsk-Pisky direction" around the city of Donetsk that is held by Russia and Russian-backed separatists.
In its update on the war on Wednesday, Ukraine's military command said its troops repelled attempts by Russian forces to advance in the direction of the town of Avdiivka which is near Donetsk.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Aleksandar Vasovic; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)