Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has publicly pledged his troops to hold their ground in Bakhmut after days in which they looked likely to withdraw, seemingly prolonging the bloodiest battle of the war in a bid to break Moscow’s assault force .
Moscow has sent thousands of troops in human wave attacks over the past few weeks to try to capture the eastern Ukrainian city and secure its first battlefield victory in more than six months. Ukrainian forces dug trenches further west and in recent days appeared to be preparing to withdraw.
But Zelenskyy’s remarks in an overnight speech suggested that Kiev had chosen not just to stay and fight, but to strengthen the city, apparently convinced that Russia’s losses in trying to storm it were still far superior to those of the defenders.
“The command unanimously supported” the decision not to withdraw, Zelenskyy said. “There were no other positions. I told the Commander-in-Chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut.
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Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago and claims to have annexed almost a fifth of its territory, says taking Bakhmut would be a step towards taking the surrounding industrial region Donbass, a major war objective.
“The liberation of Artemovsk continues,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in televised remarks, using the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut, readopted by the Russian invaders.
“The city is an important hub for the defense of Ukrainian troops in the Donbass. Taking control of it will allow new offensive actions to be carried out deep into Ukraine’s defensive lines.
Western strategists say the ruined city is of limited value and Russia’s assault may be motivated by the need to give President Vladimir Putin a symbolic victory for a winter offensive involving hundreds of thousands of conscripted reservists and soldiers. Russian private army mercenaries Wagner.
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Ukraine’s military command on Tuesday reported a record 1,600 Russians killed in the past 24 hours. Such enemy death figures cannot be confirmed and the parties do not publish regular figures of their own casualties. But earlier Ukrainian reports of similar spikes in Russian casualties corresponded to major failed Russian assaults.
Reuters reporters have not entered Bakhmut for a week and have not been able to independently verify the situation.
Urban warfare generally favors defenders. Some Ukrainian officials have spoken in recent days of a ratio of up to seven Russians killed in Bakhmut for every Ukrainian lost.
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“The opportunity to damage elite elements of the Wagner Group, as well as other elite units if engaged, in a defensive urban warfare setting where the attrition gradient strongly favors Ukraine is attractive “wrote the Institute for the Study of War.
Yet not all Western pundits agree with the wisdom of Ukraine fighting in Bakhmut.
“Shortages of artillery ammunition, increasingly contested lines of communication and a battle of attrition in adverse terrain – this fight does not play to Ukraine’s advantage as a force,” Michael wrote. Kofman, an American Russian military expert who last visited Bakhmut. week.
On the Russian side, the Battle of Bakhmut exposed a rift between the regular army and Wagner, whose boss Yevgeny Prigozhin has in recent days released videos accusing the Defense Ministry of withholding ammunition from his men.
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The Russian Defense Ministry denies withholding any ammunition from Wagner but has not responded to Prigozhin’s latest accusations. The Kremlin remained silent on the dispute.
Mark Hertling, a retired former commander of US ground forces in Europe, said the feud between Russian commanders was helping kyiv.
“The adversary – in this case, Ukraine – rejoices, as the lack of unity of command creates enemy dysfunction and countless offensive opportunities,” he tweeted.
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A video apparently showing Russian soldiers shooting an unarmed Ukrainian prisoner of war has caused uproar across Ukraine. The man says “Glory to Ukraine” before several shots are heard. A voice is heard saying “Die, bitch” in Russian as the man collapses to the ground.
“I want us all to respond in unity to his words: ‘Glory to the hero. Glory to the heroes. Glory to Ukraine.’ And we will find the murderers,” Zelenskyy said in his televised address.
Russia denies committing war crimes in Ukraine, which it invaded a year ago claiming to be responding to a security threat stemming from its neighbor’s ties to the West.
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Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians were killed along with soldiers on both sides. Russia has razed Ukrainian towns and driven millions of civilians to flight in what kyiv and the West call an unprovoked war of conquest.
While Russia has made gains in recent weeks around Bakhmut, its winter offensive has otherwise been a failure, delivering no significant gains in major assaults further north and south.
Kyiv, which reclaimed swaths of territory in the second half of 2022, has spent the last three months focusing on defence, trying to wear down Russian attackers ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive later this year.
In Velyka Novosilka, a village along the Donbass front, the remaining residents shelter in darkness in a cellar as artillery rumbles outside. Pet fish threw themselves into an aquarium. A pot was boiling on a stove.
“Since the beginning of the war, almost all the buildings have been razed. Many houses were destroyed, many houses were burnt down. Many people left, but many stayed here because this is their land, their homeland,” said 46-year-old Iryna Babkina.
“I want peace and the bombings to stop. I want to live under the peaceful sky,” she said. “I think things will get better very soon, we very much hope so. It will be Ukraine.
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