Russian forces intensified pressure on entrenched Ukrainians in Bakhmut on Saturday as residents tried to flee with the help of troops that Western analysts said may be preparing to withdraw from the main eastern stronghold.
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A woman was killed and two men were seriously injured by shelling as they attempted to cross a makeshift bridge out of the city in Donetsk province, according to Ukrainian troops assisting them.
A Ukrainian military official who asked not to be named for operational reasons told The Associated Press that it was now too dangerous for civilians to leave Bakhmut in vehicles and people should instead flee on foot .
Bakhmut was for months a prime target of Moscow’s relentless offensive in the east during the war as Russian troops, including forces from the private Wagner Group, drew ever closer.
A PA team near Bakhmut saw a pontoon bridge put in place by Ukrainian soldiers on Saturday to help the few remaining residents reach the nearby village of Khromove. Later they saw at least five houses on fire as a result of attacks in Khromove.
Ukrainian units in the past 36 hours have destroyed two key bridges just outside Bakhmut, including one connecting it to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining Ukrainian supply route, military intelligence officials say British and other Western analysts.
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Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in the latest of its regular Twitter updates that the destruction of the bridges came as Russian fighters made fresh inroads into the northern suburb of Bakhmut.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said late Friday that kyiv’s actions could signal an imminent withdrawal from parts of the city. He said Ukrainian troops could “carry out a limited and controlled withdrawal from particularly difficult sections of eastern Bakhmut”, while seeking to inhibit Russian movement there and limit exit routes to the west.
Capturing Bakhmut would not only give Russian fighters a rare gain on the battlefield after months of setbacks, but it could also sever Ukraine’s supply lines and allow Kremlin forces to move on to other strongholds. Ukrainians in the Donetsk region.
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Civilians spoke of the daily struggles as the fighting raged almost nonstop, reducing much of Bakhmut to rubble. Husband and wife Hennadiy Mazepa and Natalia Ishkova, who chose to stay in the city, said they lacked basic food and services.
“Humanitarian aid is only given to us once a month. There is no electricity, water or gas,” Ishkova told AP on Saturday.
“I pray to God that everyone who remains here will survive,” she added.
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At the United Nations on Friday, deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said UN humanitarian staff had reported “intense hostilities” near Bakhmut and the few humanitarian partners on the ground were focusing on evacuating the most vulnerable. .
Also on Saturday, Russia’s defense chief visited eastern Ukraine to inspect troops and award them state decorations, the defense ministry said.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu went to a command post where he was briefed by regional commander Rustam Muradov, according to a video released by the ministry. He did not reveal the location of the command post.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian emergency services reported in the morning that the death toll from a Russian missile strike that hit a five-story building in southern Ukraine on Thursday stood at 11.
Emergency services said in an online statement that rescuers pulled three more bodies from the wreckage overnight, about 36 hours after a Russian missile tore through four floors of the building in the riverside town of Zaporizhzhia. A child was among those killed and rescue efforts continued.
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Russian shelling on Saturday also killed two residents of frontline communities in the surrounding Zaporizhzhia region, the local military administration reported.
A 57-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man also died in Nikopol, a town further west near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as Russian forces fired artillery shells and rockets into the territory Ukrainian across the Dnieper, regional Governor Serhiy Lysak reported.
In the western city of Lviv, hundreds of kilometers from the front lines, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met the head of the European Union parliament on Saturday. Hours earlier, Zelenskyy had held talks with US Attorney General Merrick Garland and senior European legal officials on how to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine.
In a joint press briefing with Zelenskyy, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said “all those responsible” for alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, must be brought to justice before a lasting peace is established.
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Metsola expressed support for the EU’s announcement on Thursday that an international center for the prosecution of the crime of aggression _ the act of invading another country _ would be set up in The Hague.
She also called on Ukraine to begin negotiations on joining the 27-nation bloc as early as this year and urged Western nations to continue to arm Kyiv as it battles Russian forces to the east and south. .
The EU agreed in June to put Ukraine on the path to membership, setting in motion a process that could take years or even decades. However, the invasion of Moscow and Ukraine’s request for expedited review made negotiations more urgent.
“The future of Ukraine is in the European Union. We will walk to the end with you,” Metsola tweeted Friday night.
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