Although Russia claims to have taken control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a nine-month-long conflict in which tens of thousands of fighters have been killed, Ukraine’s top military leaders say the battle is far from over.
Ukrainian officials admit they control only a small part of Bakhmut. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Monday that Ukrainian troops were holding some areas on its southwestern outskirts, while fighting continued for strategic heights in the northern and southern parts of the suburbs.
“The opponent’s offensive potential has been significantly reduced. Huge losses were inflicted on the enemy. We have gained time for certain actions, which will be revealed later,” said Mrs. Maliar said:
Ukraine says its fighter jets have played a key role in a strategy to wear down Russian forces. And they say their current positions around Bakhmut will allow them to strike back inside the 400-year-old city.
“Despite the fact that we now control a small part of Bakhmut, the importance of its defense does not lose its relevance,” said the colonel. Gen. Oleksandr Sirsky, who heads the ground forces of Ukraine. “This gives us the opportunity to enter the city if the situation changes. And it will definitely happen.”
The fog of war made it impossible to confirm the situation inside Bakhmut. The Russian Defense Ministry said fighter jets from the private military contractor Wagner, backed by Russian troops, had captured the city. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky announced that the city is not completely occupied.
In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city was under full Russian control on Saturday afternoon, declaring it “totally taken” as he held a Russian flag among at least nine masked fighters with body armor and heavy weapons. . .
Russian President Vladimir Putin badly needed a victory in Bakhmut, analysts say, especially after his forces’ winter offensive failed to capture other towns and cities along the front.
But the victory in Bakhmut does not necessarily bring Russia closer to capturing the Donetsk region. Putin’s stated goal at the start of the invasion. Rather, it paves the way for tougher fighting in Sloviansk or Kostantinovka, 20 kilometers away, said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank.
A key factor for Ukraine has been high Russian casualties and demoralizing a small section of the 1,500 km (932 mile) front as Ukraine prepares for a major counteroffensive 15 months from now. war
“The enemy could not surround Bakhmut. They lost some of the heights around the city. The continuous advance of our troops in the suburbs greatly complicates the presence of the enemy,” he said. Maliar said: “Our troops captured the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy.”
About 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital Donetsk, Bakhmut was an important industrial center surrounded by salt and gypsum mines and home to about 80,000 people in a country of more than 43 million before the war.
The city, named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolutionary when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, was famous for its sparkling wine produced in underground caves. It was popular with tourists for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, lush gardens, and charming center with impressive late 19th-century mansions. All now reduced to a smoldering wasteland.
Fierce fighting has taken place in the city center of Bakhmut in recent months. But even now, Ukrainian forces are making significant advances along strategic roads through the surrounding countryside, breaking through Russia’s northern and southern flanks with the goal of encircling Wagner fighters inside the city.
Ukraine’s military leaders say their resistance was worth it because it limited Russia’s options elsewhere and enabled Ukraine to advance.
“The main idea is to exhaust them and then attack,” said the Ukrainian colonel. Yevhen Mezhevikin, commander of the specialized group fighting in Bakhmut, said on Thursday.
According to Ukrainian officials and outside observers, Russia has deployed forces in Bakhmut to fill the lost northern and southern flanks and prevent further Ukrainian breakthroughs.
In rural areas outside Bakhmut, Ukraine’s tactical gains may be more significant than meets the eye, some analysts believe.
“It looks like the Ukrainians just took advantage of the fact that the Russian lines were actually weak,” said Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at St. Petersburg University. Andrews: “The Russian army has suffered so great losses and is so worn out around Bakhmut that it can no longer advance.”
Ukrainian forces have been conducting relentless artillery attacks on Bakhmut’s foothills and the city until a month ago. Ukrainian forces in the south then saw their chance for a breakthrough after reconnaissance drones showed that the southern Russian flank had moved into a defensive position. Mezhevikin said:
After weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian units made the first advance near Bakhmut since the invasion.
Almost 20 square kilometers (8 square miles) of territory were retaken, Ms. Maliar said in an interview last week. According to the spokesman of the “East” command of the Operational Command of Ukraine, Serkhi Cherevaty, hundreds of meters were restored almost every day.
“Before, we only held the lines and did not allow the Russians to advance further into our territory. What happened now is our first promotion [since the battle started]”, – Ms. Maliar said:
Satellite images show infrastructure, apartment buildings and iconic buildings in ruins.
A few days ago, when Russia announced that it was in control of the city, Ukrainian forces held only a few buildings in the face of constant Russian bombardment. Outnumbered and outnumbered, they described nightmare days.
The dominance of Russian artillery was so overwhelming, accompanied by continuous human waves of mercenaries, that it was not possible to hold defensive positions for long.
“The importance of our mission to stay in Bakhmut is to distract the enemy’s significant forces,” said Taras Dejak, commander of the volunteer battalion’s special unit. “We are paying a high price for it.”
The northern and southern flanks restored by Ukraine are near two highways leading to Chasiv Yar, a town 10 kilometers (6 mi) from Bakhmut, which are key logistical supply routes. One is called “the way of life”.
Ukrainian forces on this road have often come under fire from the Russians on nearby strategic heights. Armored vehicles and pickup trucks going to the city to resupply Ukrainian troops were frequently destroyed.
With those high plains now under Ukrainian control, his forces have more breathing room.
“This will help us design new logistics chains to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded or killed boys,” said Mr. Dejak, speaking from inside Bakhmut on Thursday, two days before Russia declared control of the city. “Now it’s easier to get supplies, rotate troops, [carry out] evacuations”.
This is reported by the Associated Press. AP writer Danica Kirka contributed in London.