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The Ukrainian military has observed an increase in the number of Russian troops in settlements near Russian-occupied Melitopol, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces reported in its daily update on Dec. 19.
Located in Ukraine's southeastern Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Melitopol has been occupied by Russia since March.
Russian and Ukrainian forces recently engaged in artillery-on-artillery “counterbattery” around Huliaipole and Polohy, around 100 kilometers north of Melitopol, in a sign that Ukraine may be amassing troops around Huliaipole, Forbes reported on Dec. 12.
"If that’s true, it could be a sign that Ukraine’s fourth counteroffensive might be imminent, despite the onset of winter," Forbes wrote. "This widely-anticipated attack— the Zaporizhzhia left hook — would aim to liberate much of southern Ukraine and push Ukrainian troops all the way to the narrow neck of land connecting mainland Ukraine to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russian forces seized in 2014."
Recently on Dec. 12, Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov reported that a bridge near Melitopol, used by the Moscow troops for transporting military equipment, had exploded.
“This is one of the strategically important bridges, like the Crimean bridge,” he said, adding that the Russian forces were delivering equipment in the eastern direction through it. The Crimean bridge, a symbol of Russian occupation, had served as a crucial supply route for Moscow’s forces fighting in Ukraine’s occupied south.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov also said that a local church in Melitopol, which Russian troops had reportedly occupied "several months ago," had caught on fire on Dec. 10.