Bakhmut update as Russian troops encircle key Ukrainian town

The town of Bakhmut, in Donbass, is experiencing heavy fighting for “every house [and] every stairwell” as Russian forces continue their attacks on the symbolically key settlement.

The city of Donetsk has long been at the center of Russian attacks and has endured months of bombardment. Moscow forces were unable to declare final control of the bombed city, despite reports of gains around Bakhmut after the fall of nearby Soledar.

Over the past week, Russian troops have continued to make “small advances” in encircling Bakhmut, the British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday.

Writing in its daily intelligence update, the ministry suggested that the two main roads used by Kyiv forces around the city “are now both likely to be threatened by direct fire, following Russian advances”.

Members of the Ukrainian army march through the streets of Bakhmut on December 17, 2022. Russia continues its campaign to seize the city in what many analysts see as an offensive of more symbolic than operational value for Russia .
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The city is “increasingly isolated”, according to the government department, after Kremlin-backed Wagner Group forces likely captured a Ukrainian supply route to Bakhmut via the nearby town of Siversk.

The British Ministry of Defense had previously maintained that Moscow’s objective was to encircle Bakhmut by tactical advances via the north and south of the city. On Dec. 3, the ministry said that while the city would have limited operational value to Russia, it was likely that “the capture of Bakhmut has become primarily a symbolic and political objective” for the Kremlin.

On Saturday, an update published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank said Russian forces were “escalating attacks on Bakhmut” for entering the city of Donetsk.

Russian military forces, reservists and Wagnerian mercenaries are among “tens of thousands of troops” engaged in the seizure of Bakhmut, with significant casualties reported, the ISW said.

But Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is using the battles around Bakhmut to “present himself as the only victor in the Bakhmut region”, the ISW said, as he tries to use the town to maintain his influence.

In a statement posted on Telegram, Prigozhin said he was “clarifying” the situation, but responded that Ukraine’s armed forces, known as the APU, are “not retreating anywhere”.

They are “fighting to the bitter end”, he said, adding that there are “fierce battles for every street, every house, every stairwell” in the northern parts of Bakhmut.

“It’s good that the media wants the armed forces to withdraw,” Prigozhin continued, “but this is not happening in the northern neighborhoods, or in the south, or in the east.”

Russian military bloggers, including the WarGonzo account, had claimed that Wagner’s forces controlled Bakhmut and that “the liberation of the city is not far away”.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian soldiers “will fight as long as [they] can” in the city.

“No one will betray Bakhmut,” he said. “We regard Bakhmut as our fortress.”

On Saturday evening, Zelensky then said the situation was “very difficult” in Bakhmut, as well as in the neighboring town of Vuhledar.

“The invader is putting more and more force into breaking through our defenses,” he said.

A video circulating online appears to show Ukrainian fighters leaving Bakhmut, with one calling the beleaguered city “hell”.

“There, it’s hell, everything is burning there” according to a caption attached to the video on Twitter. “Within half an hour, four were injured, two died, that’s all that was left. The authorities have abandoned us. It’s hell.”

A Twitter account linked to the War Translated project, which translates documents related to the war in Ukraine for English speakers, posted a video of a Ukrainian soldier named Kiyanyn on Saturday. He also reported continued heavy fighting and artillery fire.

Kiyanyn said he believed Bakhmut could become a “breaking point” for Russian forces, saying Ukrainian fighters in the town would resist their attacks.


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