Bakhmut has been ‘nearly destroyed’ like the besieged port city of Mariupol as Russian forces encircle the Ukrainian town on three sides amid fierce street battles.
The town, around 400 miles south east of Kyiv, has for months been a prime target of Moscow’s grinding eastern offensive in the war, with Russian forces and private Wagner Group surrounding Ukrainian units.
It has now become too dangerous for the last remaining residents to make it out the area by vehicle, with a woman killed and two men badly wounded by shelling as they tried to cross a makeshift bridge yesterday.
Putin‘s forces have been relentlessly attacking the small mining town as part of efforts that would give them a first major victory in more than half a year.
But both sides are said to have suffered huge losses during the fighting, with Kyiv officials claim seven Russian soldiers have been killed for every Ukrainian troop who has died in the area, The Sunday Times reports.
Ukrainian servicemen fire a 105mm Howitzer towards Russian positions, near the city of Bakhmut
Soldiers from a Ukrainian assault brigade prepare to fire a British made L118 105mm Howitzer on Russian trenches
Undertakers lower the coffin of Volodymyr Hurieiev, a Ukrainian soldier killed in the Bakhmut area
Much of the town has now been reduced to rubble following repeated shelling, with around 4,000 residents said to still be living in the area.
Bakhmut’s deputy mayor Oleksandr Marchenko has accused Russian troops of turning the town into a new Mariupol.
He told the BBC: ‘Not a single building remains untouched. They want to destroy Bakhmut like they did with Mariupol.’
Mariupol is now fully in the hands of Russian forces, having been cut off from the rest of Ukraine early in the war and subjected to horrifying barrages and a siege.
Civilians were left without heat, food or water for weeks and described melting snow for something to drink before drinking from radiators when the snow ran out.
It was the scene of perhaps the deadliest single attack of the war when a Russian jet bombed a theatre with the word ‘children’ scrawled on the pavement outside, killing up to 600 people sheltering inside.
Thousands are known to have died in the siege, with their bodies often piled into mass graves hastily dug alongside roads.
Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, noted that Russia was using the best troops of the Wagner Group to try to encircle the city, while Zelensky accused Moscow of throwing waves of men into Bakhmut with no regard to their lives.
Recent drone footage shows the scale of devastation in the city, while Zelensky has said it has been ‘destroyed.’
Flames and smoke rise into the sky from blazing buildings while constant gunfire and explosions ring out from within the city’s crumbling walls.
It comes amid fears of a looming withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Bakhmut, with units having destroyed two key bridges in the past two days – including one linking it to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining resupply route.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a Twitter update that the destruction of the bridges came as Russian fighters made further inroads into Bakhmut’s northern suburbs
Bakhmut has for months been a prime target of Moscow’s grinding eastern offensive in the war, with Russian troops – including forces from the private Wagner Group – inching ever closer
The destruction of the bridges prevents Russian forces from taking them and themselves gaining a pivotal supply route.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a Twitter update that the destruction of the bridges came as Russian fighters made further inroads into Bakhmut’s northern suburbs.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think-tank, said Ukrainian troops may ‘conduct 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 battlefield gain after months of setbacks, but it might rupture Ukraine’s supply lines and allow the Kremlin’s forces to press towards other Ukrainian strongholds in the Donetsk region.
But Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, said yesterday that its forces will not be leaving the area.
Some reports also told of plans for reinforcements, despite President Zelensky last week saying the situation in the town was becoming ‘more and more difficult’.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire with longtime links to Putin, also said on Wednesday that he so far had seen no signs of a Ukrainian withdrawal from the city. He claimed that Kyiv has in fact been reinforcing its positions there.
A soldier from a Ukrainian assault brigade walks along a muddy road used to transport and position British made L118 105mm Howitzers
Ukrainian servicemen prepare munitions to fire with a 105mm Howitzer towards Russian positions in Bakhmut
‘The Ukrainian army is deploying additional troops and is doing what it can to retain control of the city,’ Prigozhin said. ‘Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are offering fierce resistance, and the fighting is getting increasingly bloody by day.’
Meanwhile, a defence source told The Sunday Times that, even if Bakhmut was to fall, it would ‘not make much difference strategically as Russian forces had already occupied the hills around [Bakhmut] but would certainly be totemic’.
After losing extensive territory in the second half of 2022, Russian forces have been replenished by hundreds of thousands of reservists.
Kyiv, for its part, has stuck mainly to defence over the past three months, hoping Russia’s assault will exhaust Moscow’s forces before Ukraine launches a counter-attack with new weapons promised by the West.