MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Monday that its forces had taken control of two villages in eastern Ukraine.

It was the second day in succession that Moscow has announced the capture of new localities. Ukrainian military statements have, at least in part, denied the Russian assertion.

The Russian ministry said in a statement that its forces were in control of the settlement of Stepova Novoselivka in Kharkiv region, and of Novopokrovske in Donetsk region.

The General Staff of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces, in an evening report, said its troops had repelled 17 attacks in the Kupiansk sector near Kharkiv, including by Stepova Novoselivka. It said fighting was raging near Synkivka, further west.

Russia has announced a string of incremental gains since capturing the city of Avdiivka in Donetsk region in February.

Donetsk and Kharkiv regions remain focal points along the 1,000-km (600-mile) front line in Ukraine’s east and south.

The Ukrainian military earlier said it had repelled Russian attacks near two towns in Donetsk region — Novooleksandrivka and Spirne, a day after Russian forces claimed control of them. The evening report said fighting continued near both localities.

The evening report identified the Pokrovsk front as the theatre of the fiercest fighting. Forty-four Russian assaults had been repelled in the last 24 hours, with 14 clashes still going on.

The military said Russia maintained a military presence across the border from Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv and Sumy regions, adding that Moscow’s forces were increasing the density of minefields and conducting sabotage activities.

That area is under scrutiny for any sign that Russia plans to open a new front to pressure Ukraine’s outnumbered defenders.

Russia launched an assault into the border areas of the northeastern region of Kharkiv in May, opening a new front in 28-month full-scale invasion.

The latest Ukrainian report said Kyiv’s troops controlled the area and turned back 11 Russian assaults near three towns, including Vovchansk, 5 km (3 miles) from the border.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Felix Light; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Ron Popeski and Neil Fullick)