Ukrainian troops fire on Russians with captured weapons near key city

By Joseph Campbell

BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian forces using captured weapons fired at Russian targets near the key eastern city of Bakhmut on Friday as fighting dragged on in an area that Moscow is trying hard to capture.

Russian forces have repeatedly launched attacks against Bakhmut and nearby Avdiivka in the Donetsk region but are being pushed back with what Kyiv says are heavy losses.

"Last week there was very intense fighting ... there are a lot of them (Russians), both people and equipment," said a soldier who gave his name only as Moriak, the Ukrainian word for sailor.

Reuters journalists saw a captured Russian T-80 tank and a 2S23 Nona SVK self-propelled mortar, now controlled by Ukrainian crews, firing at targets outside Bakhmut.

Ukraine's military says both were seized in March and took months to be refitted. The eight-wheel Nona - commanded by Moriak - has a 120 mm mortar capable of firing a maximum of 10 rounds per minute.

"They left us this gift, and it has high, very high (precision), and it now works against them, it helps us push them away," he said.

Bakhmut has been an important target for Russia's armed forces in a slow advance through the Donetsk region since Russia took the industrial towns of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk in June and July.

Britain's defence ministry says the Wagner Group private military company "likely remains" heavily involved in the Bakhmut fighting. Wagner, staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, was founded in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea and started providing support to pro-Russia separatists.

(Reporting by Joseph Campbell in Bakhmut, Ukraine; Editing by David Ljunggren and Matthew Lewis)