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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ukraine and Russia locked in ‘very tough’ battle for Bakhmut


A resident receives food from a Ukrainian soldier on the eastern side of Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.


By MATTHEW MPOKE BIGG


Russian forces are ratcheting up pressure on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, pouring in waves of fighters to break Ukraine’s resistance and targeting its supply lines in a bloody campaign aimed at securing Moscow’s first significant battlefield victory in months.


Eleven months after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion, Bakhmut and surrounding areas have become an epicenter of fighting, their importance growing as both sides have added forces to the battle. Russia and Ukraine are each believed to be preparing for larger offensives as warmer spring temperatures arrive, and as Kyiv’s Western allies try to rush armored vehicles and other heavy weapons to the front.


Russia has intensified its effort to capture Bakhmut — which it sees as key to President Vladimir Putin’s objective of seizing the entire Donbas area in the east — after months of bombardment beginning in the summer yielded little progress. Civilians have streamed out of Bakhmut under Russian shelling, abandoning a city that before the war had a population of about 70,000, as the armies fought a series of battles in surrounding towns and villages that left heavy casualties on both sides.


Despite suffering setbacks elsewhere in eastern Ukraine and in the south, since last fall, Moscow’s troops edging toward Bakhmut from the east have gradually squeezed the city. This month, Russian forces took the salt mining town of Soledar, six miles to the northeast. They have also cut off a road running north toward the town of Siversk.


To the south, Ukrainian soldiers who recently left the front line said that a paved road that had been their main supply route into Bakhmut was now within range of Russian artillery and tanks, though still in Ukrainian hands. This leaves Ukraine relying on a road west to the town of Chasiv Yar, itself the target of frequent Russian attacks, and this road is harder to traverse.


In past battles in Donbas, Russia has aimed to encircle a city first, leaving Ukraine to decide whether to expend costly resources to defend it. Military experts said that while the outcome of the battle for Bakhmut remained unclear, and while Ukraine could still manage to send in reinforcements to stabilize their defense of the city, a similar pattern appeared to be at play in the current fighting.


Much of last year’s fighting around Bakhmut was spearheaded by Wagner, a Russian private military group that the United States last week designated as a transnational criminal organization. But analysts say that regular Russian forces are increasingly prominent around Bakhmut and Vuhledar, a town about 60 miles southwest that has been virtually obliterated by shelling.


“The situation is very tough,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said in his nightly address Monday after meeting with military leaders that focused on the fighting in Donetsk, one of two regions that make up Donbas.


“Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other areas in the Donetsk region are under constant Russian attacks,” Zelenskyy said. “There are constant attempts to break through our defense.”


Military analysts say that Ukrainian forces have been using their positions in and around Vuhledar to launch attacks on the region’s main railway hub in the occupied town of Volnovakha, less than 10 miles away, trying to weaken Russia’s resupply efforts. The Ukrainian head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on the Telegram social media app Tuesday that there had been “intense fire” in Vuhledar and the surrounding area, without offering details.


The fighting around Bakhmut has intensified in recent days, Ivan Tymochko, a serviceman and chairman of the country’s council of reservists, said on Ukrainian television.


He said that Russian forces partly controlled the village of Sakko i Vantsetti, north of Bakhmut, and were attacking a sparkling wine factory on the eastern edge of the city and a meat processing plant, suggesting that they may be moving closer to the city. The battle lines are “constantly moving in one direction or another,” he said, adding that the situation around Vuhledar, a city about 65 miles southwest of Bakhmut, was under Kyiv’s control after heavy Russian losses.

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