The city of Bakhmut has been the center of fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region for months, and one of the longest and deadliest battles of the war.
This is how the battle unfolded.
When two Ukrainian cities in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region fell to Russian forces in quick succession last summer, Bakhmut, a city about 30 miles to the southwest, became the next target in Russia’s campaign to secure all of Donbas.
Bakhmut was a supply hub for Ukrainian fighter jets in two Luhansk cities, Sieverodonetsk and Lysichansk, and was repeatedly shelled by Russian forces, causing most of Bakhmut’s population of about 70,000 to flee. At the time, however, few expected that the city, which was also the scene of fierce fighting in 2014, would become the longest sustained battle of the war.
The Russian attack on Bakhmut was based on tactics used in previous battles: deploying artillery firepower and attempting to capture neighboring towns and villages before moving into the city itself.
At the same time, Moscow, which largely held territory east of the city, cut off supply routes to Bakhmut that Ukrainian forces used. Cutting off that access would force Ukrainian forces to retreat to avoid encirclement.
In the fall, the two sides fought nearby and the shelling of the city intensified.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of turning Bakhmut into “burnt ruins” in his national address. Among Ukrainians, the phrase “keep Bakhmut” became a rallying cry, and the defense of the city increasingly became a national symbol of resistance.
Russian forces occupied the village of Klishchiivka, south of Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces considered it key to the defense of Bakhmut, as the village is located on high ground to the east of the roads leading into the city, which are crucial for resupplying the forces defending the city.
Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the town of Soledar, northeast of Bakhmut, allowing Russian forces to tighten their grip near the town. Russia later announced that it had captured several villages near Soledar, further jeopardizing supply routes to Bakhmut.
The situation worsened for the Ukrainians as their main supply route, which one general called a “last gash,” came under increasing attack from Russian forces. A US intelligence estimate at the time, which appeared online in April, said that as of February: On the 25th, Ukrainian forces were “almost operationally surrounded” in the city.
Zelensky told Ukrainians that “the situation is getting more complicated” and Ukraine’s military barred aid workers and other civilians from entering Bakhmut for security reasons, a decision seen as a prelude to a possible withdrawal.
But Ukraine sent in reinforcements, including various elite units, and was able to push Russian forces back far enough to allow troops to resupply the city and evacuate the wounded.
Commander of the Ground Forces of Ukraine, Col. Gen. Alexander Sirsky visited the soldiers in Bakhmut twice and said that Russia is putting its “most ready units” into the fight.
The Wagner mercenary force, which helped lead the Russian assault on the city, took control of much of eastern Bakhmut, leaving the Bakhmutka River, which runs north to south through the center of the city, as the new front line. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the “Wagner” group, said:
In fierce urban fighting, Ukrainian forces defended the western pocket of the city, which was only 20 blocks wide, steadily shrinking and pounded relentlessly by artillery.
Russia has stepped up its assault on Bakhmut with artillery and airstrikes, Ukraine said, even as Ukrainian forces struggled to maintain vital roads west of the city, their last major supply and evacuation route.
Prigogine threatened to pull his fighters out of Bakhmut on May 10 due to a lack of support from the Russian Defense Ministry, but appeared to back off two days later, saying he had been promised enough ammunition and weapons to continue the fight.
In mid-May, Ukrainian forces managed to retake some territory north and south of Bakhmut, even as Russian forces continued their offensive on the city’s borders.
On Saturday, Prigozhin insisted that the city was fully under Wagner’s control, a claim that Ukrainian officials quickly rejected. Hours later, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the capture of the city was “complete”.