"As of 0800, the settlement of Shyrokino was occupied. There was a high intensity of firing. Both sides are applying different caliber weapons,” the battalion said in a statement on Russian social network Vkontakte.

“The enemy has mobilized armored vehicles. Russian aircraft flew over the border three times, but did not deliver an attack on our forces. Azov is rolling out its offensive on Sakhanka," the statement reads.

Later the battalion posted another statement, reading: "The first checkpoint was has been taken over in the area of Sakhanka. The enemy is retreating."

Meanwhile, video and photographs posted on social media indicate that Russian-backed militants have surrounded Ukrainian forces in the town of Debaltseve. However, Ukrainian military sources deny that the large Ukrainian force in the town has been cut off.