A local resident looks at a crater at the site of a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kherson, Ukraine, 5 December 2023; Credit: Reuters/Ivan Antypenko

KYIV (Reuters) - Russian forces pressed on with a long-running drive to capture the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka on Tuesday 5 December 2023 and both sides said they had made gains.

Russian attacks killed four people in eastern and southern regions, including strikes on an aid centre and a medical building in the southern city of Kherson, the target of intensified Russian shelling in the 21-month-old war.

Ukraine said it had downed a Russian Su-24 fighter plane over the Black Sea near Snake Island as the aircraft was on its way to attack Odesa region.

Vitaliy Barabash, head of the military administration in Avdiivka, said Ukrainian forces had secured control of the village of Stepove on the northwestern approaches to the town.

"Yesterday and the day before yesterday, our side carried out very serious stabilisation actions," Barabash told US-funded Radio Liberty. "Stepove is now fully controlled by the Armed Forces of Ukraine."

The popular Russian war blog Rybar said Russian forces had secured new areas around the village, 5 km north of Avdiivka. And the US-based Institute for the Study of War, quoting geopolitical footage from Monday, said Russian forces were occupying improved positions.

Russian forces have been engaged in a slow-moving drive through eastern Ukraine since failing to advance on Kyiv in the early days of the February 2022 full-scale invasion. Since mid-October, they have focused on Avdiivka, a gateway to the Russian held regional centre of Donetsk and known for its vast coking plant.

Holding the coking plant

Barabash stood by his contention that Russian forces had been kept out of the plant, but acknowledged that fighting raged in the "industrial zone" outside the town centre. Reuters could not confirm accounts from either side.

Fighting has also gripped two other largely devastated eastern towns, Ukrainian-held Maryinka and Russian-held Bakhmut.

Military analyst Serhiy Zgurets said Russian forces were trying to move on the northeastern town of Kupiansk, seized by Russian troops after the invasion, but later retaken by Ukraine.

Zgurets, writing on the website of media outlet Espreso TV, said fighting had been going on for several weeks near the village of Synkivka, 9 km from Kupiansk.

In Kherson, three people were killed and at least six injured in new Russian shelling.

"Today, the enemy destroyed one of the humanitarian centres," Yuri Sobolevskyi, deputy head of Kherson regional council, told national television. "One of our medical institutions was shelled. The shelling is continuing ...and the density is high."

Officials earlier said four doctors at the medical centre were injured. They said Russia fired two S-300 missiles, also damaging residential buildings nearby.

Russian forces used the "Grad" multiple launch rocket system for a two-hour-long attack on the eastern frontline city of Chasiv Yar, the General Prosecutor's Office said, killing one and injuring five. Residents, it said, were receiving water and bread from volunteers at the time of the attack.

Russia has denied targeting civilians in its invasion, although thousands have been killed in Russian air strikes.