Russia pounds Ukraine, eyes capturing Bakhmut by April

Russia unleashed a new barrage of missiles across Ukraine Thursday and struck its largest oil refinery — while the head of the Wagner mercenary group predicted that Moscow’s forces would capture the key city of Bakhmut in a matter of months.

Following a familiar pattern of brutal attacks after Ukrainian battlefield or diplomatic gains, Russia launched 36 missiles in the early hours, Ukraine’s Air Force confirmed.

One of the strikes killed a 79-year-old woman and injured at least seven other people in the eastern city of Pavlohrad, the regional governor said.

Overall, Russian attacks and shelling over the previous 24 hours killed at least seven people, Ukraine’s presidential office said Thursday

NATO alliance officials had on the previous day discussed plans for more weapons for Kyiv, and Britain and Poland agreed after their leaders met Thursday that support should be stepped up in the coming weeks, to coincide with Moscow’s anticipated offensive.

The Russian missiles triggered air-raid sirens and landed across Ukraine, including at the Kremenchuk refinery, where the extent of damage was unclear. About 16 were shot down, the air force added.

The wife of a Ukrainian soldier killed in battle touches her husband’s face during a funeral service on February 16.
Vadim Ghirda/AP

Ukraine said the barrage included three KH-31 missiles and one Oniks anti-ship cruise missile, which its air defenses cannot shoot down.

According to Ukrainian officials, the enemy had also shelled more than two dozen eastern and southern settlements.

Bolstered by tens of thousands of reservists, Russia has intensified ground attacks across southern and eastern Ukraine ahead of the Feb. 24 one-year anniversary of the war.

Russia’s current focus is on the small city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which has seen some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.

In battles led by the Wagner Group swelled by prison recruits, Russia has for months been pounding and encircling Bakhmut, which is strategically important to Kyiv because it is located next to a supply route

“They (the Russians) are sending a lot of troops. I don’t think that is sustainable for them to keep attacking this way,” said the Ukrainian 80th Air Assault Brigade’s press officer, Taras Dzioba.

“There are places where their bodies are just piled up. There is a trench where… they just don’t evacuate their wounded or killed.”

Bakhmut’s fall would give Russia a stepping stone to advance on two bigger Donetsk cities further west, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. But Ukraine and its Western allies say seizing the bombed-out city would be a pyrrhic victory given the months it has taken and the huge losses they say Russia has sustained.

A photo sits on the remnants of an area where a Russian missile tore apart buildings in downtown Kramatorsk.
A photo rests on rubble where a Russian missile tore apart buildings in downtown Kramatorsk.
Kish Kim /Sipa USA via AP

In an interview with a pro-war military blogger, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin forecast Bakhmut would be captured by April, depending on how many men Ukraine threw into the fight and how well his men were supplied.

“Because there are a huge number of problems that need to be solved. Naturally it will also depend on whether we continue to be bled,” he added, referring to the end of prisoner recruits.

With Post wires