The eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region is one of the few major areas in Donbas beyond the Russians' grasp.
Hundreds of people are fleeing the city as the Ukrainian military says Russian units are being reinforced on the approaches to Sloviansk in preparation to resume an offensive.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Friday the Russians are concentrating a force of up to 20 battalion tactical groups in the area. The Russians had tried to launch an attack on two towns north and northwest of Sloviansk — Barvinkove and Sviatohirsk — but had been unsuccessful, the military said. It's unclear whether the Russians have taken further territory to the east of Sloviansk after winning control of the town of Lyman late last month. The Ukrainian side said Russian forces have used artillery in two areas closer to Sloviansk, Shchurove and Brusivka.
Evacuation numbers have nearly doubled this week in Sloviansk, the head of the city's military administration, Vadym Lyakh, said on Saturday. There are currently around 22,000 people left in Sloviansk, around a fifth of the pre-war population of approximately 110,000, according to Lyakh.
Ever since Russia refocused its "special military operation" on the region, it has been a key goal to capture the city, along with the nearby city of Kramatorsk. Both are significant transport hubs with substantial heavy industry and manufacturing, even if much of it has fallen into disrepair.
Reaching and taking them would represent a significant achievement for the Russian forces — bringing them close to the border of Donetsk region and securing much of the north of it. The two cities are about 25 kilometers (about 15.5 miles) from the western border of Donetsk.
Both Sloviansk and Kramatorsk have a symbolic significance too. For several months in 2014, they were held by pro-Russian separatists who formed their own city administration. They were eventually driven out by the Ukrainian army.