Bakhmut: Ukrainian forces cling onto besieged city
Ukrainian forces are holding onto the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut which has become a symbol of Kyiv’s defiance of Russia, as the battle for the city continues with no end in sight.
The months-long battle for Bakhmut, one of the last urban centres in the eastern Donetsk province yet to fall to Russian forces, has proven one of the bloodiest of the war.
“(Battles) are underway in the streets, and enemy attempts to encircle the city are failing. Our command fully controls the situation,” said Andriy Yermak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy.
The leader of Russia’s private Wagner militia, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said fighting was raging in the west of the city.
“It must be said clearly that the enemy is not going anywhere,” he said on his Telegram channel.
Prigozhin has often complained of a lack of ammunition for his fighters in Bakhmut. But Ukrainian border guard Levko Stek, speaking in a video clip amid explosions, said Ukrainian forces did not sense any “ammunition hunger” on the Russian side.
Western analysts have played down the strategic significance of Bakhmut but Ukraine has framed its dogged defence of the city as a way of wearing down Russian forces ahead of a counter-offensive bolstered by advanced Western-supplied weapons.
“We are ready, we have to do it, the sooner the better,” Naza, a 21-year-old unit commander, said outside Bakhmut.
“The enemy must be chased away. At the moment we are waiting for the weather to change, the mud is an obstacle.”
Speaking from close to the front line, the commander of Ukraine’s 5th separate assault brigade, who gave his name as Ivan, said: “Those service members that are not on the front line are training.”
Ukrainian military expert Oleksander Musienko said Russian forces were “exhausted and cannot maintain the same pace of attacks” as those launched in February.
“It’s clear now that the Russian army’s ability to attack is stalled. And for all their bravado about taking over Bakhmut, it is just not true,” he said in a video commentary.
“The Russian forces are preparing to organise defensive positions. The idea is to bring the war into a positional phase, essentially a stalemate.”
Meanwhile, a top Russian official said there was no chance of peace talks this year as French President Emmanuel Macron urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to persuade Russia to negotiate an end to Europe’s most dangerous conflict since World War Two.
Following talks in Beijing on Thursday with Macron and European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen, Xi said he hoped Russia and Ukraine could hold negotiations as soon as possible and warned all countries against using nuclear weapons.
He did not express a willingness to speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, although Von der Leyen said Xi had told her a conversation could happen when the “conditions and time are right”.