Ukraine said on Saturday it had recaptured a swathe of the battlefield city of Sievierodonetsk, in a rare counter-offensive against Russia’s main assault force that had been steadily advancing in the east.

The Ukrainian claim could not be independently verified and Moscow said its own forces were making gains there. But it was the first time Kyiv has claimed to have lau­nched a big counter-attack in Siever­odo­netsk after days of yielding ground there.

Russia has concentrated its forces on Sievierodonetsk in recent weeks for one of the biggest ground battles of the war, with Moscow appearing to bet its campaign on capturing one of two eastern provinces it claims on behalf of separatist proxies.

Both sides have claimed to have inflicted huge casualties in the fighting for the small industrial city, a battle that military experts say could determine which side has the momentum for a prolonged war of attrition in coming months.

In the diplomatic sphere, Kyiv rebuked French President Emmanuel Macron for saying it was important not to “humiliate” Moscow.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted in response: “Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it.

Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk province which includes Sievierodonetsk, said overnight that Ukrainian forces previously in control of just 30pc of the city had mounted a counter-attack, recapturing another 20 percent of it.

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