One of President Vladimir Putin’s top generals has been killed in a Ukrainian ambush in the battle for the Donbas region, Russian state media confirmed, while another commander is also reported to be dead.
Maj Gen Roman Kutuzov had been commanding troops from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), a reporter for Rossiya 1 television channel said on Sunday.
Confirmation of his death brings the number of senior officers Russia has lost in the 14-week invasion to 60.
"The general had led soldiers into attack, as if there are not enough colonels," journalist Alexander Sladkov wrote on the Telegram app. "On the other hand, Roman was the same commander as everyone else, albeit a higher rank."
Lt Gen Roman Berdnikov was killed in the same attack carried out by Ukrainian forces, a group of independent journalists said.
Moscow has not confirmed his death but it would make Berdnikov the 12th Russian general to be killed in the war. It would also mean that the two most senior Russian commanders in Donetsk had been wiped out in a single attack, a massive blow to the Kremlin’s bid to take control of the eastern region.
Moscow last week lost its 49th colonel since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine was launched on February 24.
The Ukrainian army posted a photo of what it claimed was the body of Kutuzov on its Facebook page.
In a statement, Ukraine’s armed forces attempted to make light of Russia’s reasoning for the war, which it calls a “special military operation” to achieve the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine.
“The Commander of the 1st Army Corps of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Maj Gen Roman Kutuzov, has been officially de-Nazified and demilitarised."
Berdnikov had until last month served as commander of the Russian armed forces in Syria before he was repositioned to oversee Mr Putin’s troops and the DPR.
Claims of his death came from the Volya Telegram channel, which comprises independent war journalists working on both sides of the conflict. They said Berdnikov died in an ambush in which some troops managed to escape while others lost their lives.
“On the morning of June 5, Lt Gen Roman Berdnikov, who led the Russian troops and units of the DPR from Donetsk, left with the headquarters on a working trip,” said the post. “On the way, presumably on a bridge, the vehicles of the headquarters were attacked by a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group.”
“After that, our sources reported that Roman Berdnikov died in this battle. A little later, two more sources confirmed this, specifying that other senior officers could have died during the battle.”
Britain last month said Russian generals were being made scapegoats for Moscow's debilitating war effort in Ukraine after President Putin sacked several top military figures.
Ukraine's military reported that its forces had repelled seven attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Sunday, destroying four Russian tanks and shooting down a combat helicopter.
In Donetsk, invading forces have been advancing in recent days in territory north of the Siverskyi Donets river, in advance of what Kyiv believes could be a push on the major city of Sloviansk, which had a pre-war population of 111,000.
Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Sunday that Ukrainian counterattacks in the key eastern city of Severodonetsk over the past 24 hours were likely to blunt any operational momentum Russia had gained. Moscow was deploying poorly equipped separatist fighters in the city to limit the risk to its regular forces, it said.
Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region has in recent weeks played host to some of the fiercest clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Troops loyal to Kyiv experienced setbacks after retaking parts of the city from Russian forces, local officials said on Monday.
"Fighting is very fierce in Severodonetsk," regional governor Sergiy Gaiday told Ukraine's 1+1 television.
"Our defenders managed to counterattack and liberate half of the city but the situation has worsened for us."