Russian forces pound eastern Ukraine's Avdiivka

FILE PHOTO: Police officer walks near a damaged residential building in Avdiivka

(Reuters) - Russian forces pounded the shattered eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka on Tuesday, but heavy losses forced them to switch to air attacks and rely less on full-on ground advances, Ukrainian officials said.

Russia has focused on advancing in the east -- in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk -- after failing to move on Kyiv in the early days of its invasion, launched in February 2022.

Ukraine in June undertook a counteroffensive, capturing villages in the east and south, but at a much slower pace than a rapid advance through the northeast a year ago.

Russia appears to have focused for the moment on Avdiivka -- a town known for its vast coking plant and now a hallmark of Ukrainian resistance.

"The enemy dropped about 40 guided aerial bombs in two nights. But the number of ground assaults has been reduced, half of what it was yesterday and the day before," Oleksandr Shtupun, spokesperson for Ukraine's southern group of forces, told national television.

"This is not surprising as over the past five days, the enemy has lost about 2,400 dead and wounded in Donetsk region."

Most of those casualties, he said, were near Avdiivka and the nearby long-contested town of Maryinka

Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka's military administration, said the town was enduring unrelenting artillery and air attacks.

"The enemy is persistently trying to surround the city and is throwing in new forces from the north and south," Barabash told television.

"For two days, they have been operating mostly in small groups, trying to find cracks in our defence, but without success. The defence line is holding."

Avdiivka was captured briefly in 2014, when Russian-backed separatists seized large chunks of eastern Ukraine, but Ukrainian forces took it back and built solid fortifications.

Russian forces have also been attacking further north in the area of Kupiansk -- a town initially seized by Russian forces after the invasion but recaptured by Ukraine in last year's drive in the northeast.

Kharkiv Regional Governor Oleh Synehub said two civilians had died in an artillery strike on a village near Kupiansk.

Russian accounts of the fighting have avoided any mention of Avdiivka this week, but noted successful artillery and air strikes near Bakhmut -- a town to the northeast captured by Russian forces in May after months of battles.

Reuters could not independently verify accounts of battlefield activity on either side.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Maria Starkova; editing by Jonathan Oatis)