More than 4,000 inhabitants of Bakhmut continued to cower in underground shelters without electricity, gas or water as fierce street-to-street fighting continued to rage above them. However, city officials insisted that Russia had not yet sprung its ring of steel, despite claims by the head of Russian paramilitary Wagner group that his fighters had ‘practically encircled’ the eastern Ukraine city after months of trying.
Only one road into the city remains under Ukrainian control, Yevgeny Prigozhin said, as he called on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to abandon the city
UK intelligence reports confirmed that city was under “increasingly severe pressure” as Russian Army and Wagner Group forces made further advances into the northern suburbs, which are now ”a Ukrainian-held salient, vulnerable to Russian attacks on three sides”.
Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, visited Bakhmut on Friday for meetings with local commanders, and last night Ukraine continued to reinforce the area with elite units which had repelled numerous attacks since Friday.
A predicted rise in temperature was expected to cause muddy conditions known as ‘bezdorizhzhia’, which hamper cross-country movement and favour defenders.
However, evidence that Ukraine was preparing extensive defensive positions, including around the nearby city of Kramatorsk, suggested that the situation in the embattled city appeared to be extremely precarious.
And the destruction by Ukraine of two key bridges – one of them vital in connecting the city to the last main supply route Chasiv Yar – suggested that Ukrainian forces were preparing to abandon some sectors.
“The preemptive destruction of bridges is likely an indicator that Ukrainian troops may seek to inhibit Russian movement in eastern Bakhmut and limit potential westward Russian egress routes out of Bakhmut,“ , said a report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
In the meantime Oleksandr Marchenko, Bakhmut’s deputy mayor, insisted that Russia had yet to control the eastern part of the city.
Despite “not a single building” untouched by shelling, he said those inhabitants who had stayed were determined not to surrender to Russian invaders.
“I believe we shouldn’t give any inch of our land to the enemy,” he said.”We should protect our land, we should protect our people and we should protect the businesses that are on this land.
“And the reason why we shouldn’t give it to them is because it will be very hard to take it back, to regain control after the Russians capture it.”
The scale of Russia’s year-old invasion has been laid by a senior Nato commander.
Moscow has lost 200,000 soldiers and more than 1,800 officers, more than 2,000 main battle tanks, and is firing 23,000 artillery rounds a day, said US Army Gen Christopher Cavoli, Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
He said Nato must learn new lessons about hard power, adding: “The scale of this war is incredible. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Nato must adapt to the new reality. If the other guy comes with a tank, you must have a tank.”
The bloody battle to control Bakhmut is a good example.
The city once boasted a population of 75,000 before it became a Russian target.
It holds little strategic value, and has cost thousands of Russian lives at a time where Russia is losing around 20,000 troops a month in eastern Ukraine.
Yet its capture remains vital for Moscow, which has not secured a single battlefield victory in several months, and will clearly come at any cost.
Earlier this week, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “They (Russians) want to destroy Bakhmut, they want to destroy the city like they did with Mariupol and Popasna.”
On Friday, he stressed that artillery and shells were needed to “stop Russia” and retake regions which Kyiv still considers its own, adding: “Artillery is the number one thing that we need. Both systems and ammunition – shells in large amounts.”
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