What you need to know:
- Ukraine said Thursday that fighting in the eastern Donbas region of the country had reached its fiercest level yet, as Russian forces pushed deeper into the industrial region.
A Russian court confirmed the dismissal of 115 national guardsmen who challenged their sacking after refusing to take part in Moscow's military operation in Ukraine.
The case appears to be the first official confirmation of soldiers refusing to join Russia's military campaign in Ukraine that was launched on February 24.
A military court in Russia's southern Kabardino-Balkaria republic said Thursday it examined the "necessary documents" and questioned officials of the National Guard, a domestic security force separate from the Russian army.
It concluded that the defendants "arbitrarily refused to perform an official assignment" and turned down their appeal.
The hearing was held behind closed doors to avoid revealing "military secrets", the court added.
Citing the court's press service, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday that the servicemen refused to carry out an assignment related to Moscow's "special operation" in Ukraine.
Ukraine says war in east at 'maximum intensity'
Ukraine said Thursday that fighting in the eastern Donbas region of the country had reached its fiercest level yet, as Russian forces pushed deeper into the industrial region.
"The fighting has reached its maximum intensity," Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar told a press briefing.
"Enemy forces are storming the positions of our troops simultaneously in several directions. We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us," she added.
Moscow's army has plotted a slow but steady course deeper into the Donbas region since withdrawing forces from central and northern regions to consolidate military efforts in the east.
They are closing in around several key urban hubs, particularly Severodonetsk and Lysychansk that stand on route to Ukraine's eastern administrative centre in Kramatorsk.
"The situation remains difficult and shows signs of further aggravation," Malyar said.
"We must understand that this is a war and, unfortunately, losses on our part are inevitable," she added.
The Lugansk region's governor Sergiy Gaiday said that "heavy" Russian bombardments on Lysychansk had done extensive damage to civilian infrastructure, including a humanitarian aid centre.
Gaiday said that three people had died in recent Russian attacks on the region, which Moscow's forces have said they have nearly complete control over.