Russian troops repeatedly attacked Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine Wednesday in a bid to encircle the key city and capture it after months of brutal fighting – but Ukrainian forces continued standing their ground against increasingly dire odds.
“The enemy continues to advance. The assault on the city of Bakhmut continues,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said in a Facebook post.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the ruthless Wagner mercenary group fighting on Russia’s behalf, confirmed that Ukrainians were mounting a “furious resistance” to maintain control of the stronghold.
A Ukrainian soldier reported in a video he posted on a Telegram channel that it was “a bit calmer” in Bakhmut.
“We (have) silenced the enemy a bit…There’s a gunfight on the outskirts. A few explosions, shells flying,” serviceman and vlogger Andrii Babychev said, with the sound of explosions going off in the background.
“But we are standing in Bakhmut. Nobody plans to withdraw anywhere at the moment. We’re standing. Bakhmut is Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine!” he said.
In his nightly address Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the Russian military was throwing wave after wave of men into battle in Bakhmut with no regard for their lives, and acknowledged that the fighting was “most difficult” but the city’s defense essential.
Russian forces, which have been replenished by hundreds of thousands of conscripts in preparation for a massive offensive, have been making incremental gains around Bakhmut in recent weeks, albeit at an enormous cost in lives.
Capturing the city, which was home to some 70,000 inhabitants before the war but now lies in ruins, would allow the Kremlin’s troops to cut off the Ukrainians’ supply lines and offer an avenue to taking full control of the rest of the Donbas region.
Kyiv’s forces have been repelling relentless Russian attacks on Bakhmut for months, hoping to exhaust the enemy in time for Ukraine’s counteroffensive with new battle tanks and other modern weaponry pledged by Western allies. Both sides have referred to the war zone in the east as a “meat grinder” due to the brutality of the fighting.
In an audio message on social media, Prigozhin, an ally of Vladimir Putin and Wagner Group’s boss, said the Ukrainian military was throwing extra reserves into the battle, “trying to hold the town with all their strength.”
“Tens of thousands of Ukrainian army fighters are putting up furious resistance. The bloodiness of the battles is growing by the day,” Prigozhin said.
As Ukrainian troops continued holding their positions around Bakhmut, an adviser to Zelensky raised the prospect that Kyiv might withdraw its forces from the city, which has become a symbol of Ukraine’s struggle.
“Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options. So far, they’ve held the city, but if need be, they will strategically pull back,” Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to the president of Ukraine, told CNN. “We’re not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing.”
The battle for Bakhmut has come to embody Ukraine’s determination more than a year into the war as the city’s defenders hold out against relentless shelling and Russian troops suffer heavy casualties.
Rodnyansky said that Russia was using the Wagner Group’s best mercenaries to try to tighten the noose around Bakhmut.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said earlier this week that reinforcements had been sent to Bakhmut.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the possible withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut “will not affect the course of the war in any way” because of the Ukrainian firing positions on a hill in the nearby town of Chasiv Yar.
Bakhmut is already partly surrounded and all local roads are under Russian fire control.
“In Bakhmut, the Russians lost so many forces — soldiers and equipment — that this city has already fulfilled its function,” Zhdanov said.
With Post wires