One of Vladimir Putin's closest associates said that Russia is "not at war with Ukraine, but is instead engaged in conflict with the UK and the US."

The secretary of the Russian security council, Nikolai Patrushev, stated: "The actions in Ukraine constitute a military conflict between Russia and Nato, and above all the United States and Britain."

The former Soviet agent also said that Russia is "not at war with Ukraine" since Russians "cannot feel enmity for ordinary Ukrainians," according to the Argumenti I Fakti daily.

In response to a string of defeats on the battlefield in Ukraine, Putin's defense minister promised on Tuesday to expand Russia's stockpile of weapons, advance aviation technology to better elude air defenses, and increase drone manufacturing.

Additionally, two British citizens who were assisting in the evacuation of people from Ukraine have vanished in the Donetsk area.

The Independent has learned that the two missing men are 48-year-old Andrew Bagshaw and 28-year-old Christopher Parry. Since the two departed Kramatorsk at eight on Friday morning, there has been no communication with them.

According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces are stepping up their assault on Ukrainian positions in the vicinity of the destroyed city of Bakhmut, causing new levels of death and destruction in the grueling, months-long conflict for control of eastern Ukraine that is a part of Moscow's larger war.

"Everything has been ruined entirely. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, described the situation surrounding Bakhmut and the adjoining city of Soledar as having practically no life remaining.

According to Zelenskyy, "the whole terrain surrounding Soledar is covered with the dead of the occupants and wounds from the strikes. This is how insanity seems."

The Kremlin, which invaded its neighbor 10 1/2 months ago but has seen several setbacks, is desperate for success. Donetsk and three other Ukrainian regions were unlawfully taken by Russia in September, but its forces have had difficulty advancing.

The conflict erupted in the area of Bakhmut when Ukrainian troops retook the city of Kherson in November.

Hanna Malyar, the deputy minister of defense for Ukraine, said that Russia has sent "a big number of storm units" into the battle for the city. She said that the enemy was advancing "literally on the remains of their own men" and that they were being heavily attacked by artillery, rocket launchers, and mortars.

The governor of the Donetsk area, chosen by Kyiv, Pavlo Kyrylenko, referred to the Russian assaults on Soledar and Bakhmut as persistent on Tuesday.

Kyrylenko said in public statements that "the Russian army is turning Ukrainian towns to ashes using all types of weaponry in their scorched-earth methods. Russia is fighting a war without conventions, which is killing and suffering civilians."

At a Ukrainian medical stabilization facility close to the front line in the Bakhmut area, injured troops came round-the-clock for emergency care. Monday, medical personnel struggled for 30 minutes to rescue a soldier, but the damage was too great.

Another soldier's helmet was punctured by a piece, resulting in a brain injury. He was quickly sufficiently stabilized by medical personnel for transport to a military hospital.

Kostnyantyn Vasylkevich, a surgeon and the center's coordinator, told The Associated Press, "We battle until the very end to preserve a life." Obviously, it hurts when there is no hope of saving them.

The head of the Donetsk seized territories who is supported by Moscow said on Tuesday that Russian soldiers were "extremely close" to occupying Soledar. Denis Pushilin, though, told Russian state television that the achievements came "at a very steep price."

Pushilin claimed that if the city could be taken over, there would be "excellent possibilities" for capturing Bakhmut and Siversk, a town farther to the north where Ukrainian defenses "are also extremely serious."