The Donbas city of Bakhmut is seeing heavy fighting for “every house [and] every stairwell” as Russian forces press on with attacks on the symbolically key settlement.
The Donetsk city has long been the focus of Russian attacks, and has endured months of shelling. Moscow’s forces have been unable to declare definitive control over the bombarded city, despite reports of gains around Bakhmut following the fall of the nearby town of Soledar.
Over the last week, Russian troops have continued to “make small advances” in encircling Bakhmut, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said on Sunday.
Writing in its daily intelligence update, the ministry suggested the two main roads used by Kyiv’s forces around the city “are likely now both threatened by direct fire, following the Russian advances.”
The city is “increasingly isolated,” according to the government department, after Kremlin-backed Wagner Group forces likely captured a Ukrainian supply route to Bakhmut through the nearby town of Siversk.
The British defense ministry had previously argued Moscow’s goal was to encircle Bakhmut through tactical advances via the north and south of the city. On December 3 the ministry said that although the city would have limited operational value for Russia, it was likely that “Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective” for the Kremlin.
On Saturday, an update posted by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank said Russian forces were “intensifying attacks on Bakhmut” over pushing through to Donetsk City.
Russian military forces, reserves and Wagner mercenaries are among the “tens of thousands of troops” committed to seizing Bakhmut, with significant casualties reported, the ISW said.
But Wagner group head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is using the battles around Bakhmut to “frame himself as the sole victor in the Bakhmut area,” the ISW said, as he attempts to use the city to maintain his influence.
In a statement posted on Telegram, Prigozhin said he was “clarifying” the situation, but responded that Ukraine’s armed forces, known as the APU, are “not retreating anywhere.”
They are “fighting to the last,” he said, adding that there are “fierce battles for every street, every house, every stairwell” in the northern parts of Bakhmut.
“It’s nice that the media want the armed forces to retreat,” Prigozhin continued, “but this does not happen either in the northern quarters, or in the south, or in the east.”
Russian military bloggers, including the account WarGonzo, had claimed Wagner forces were in control of Bakhmut and the “liberation of the city is not far off.”
On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine’s soldiers will “fight for as long as [they] can” in the city.
“Nobody will give away Bakhmut,” he said. “We consider Bakhmut our fortress.”
On Saturday evening, Zelensky then said the situation was “very difficult” in Bakhmut, as well as in the neighboring town of Vuhledar.
“The invader is putting more and more of his forces into breaking down our defenses,” he said.
A video circulating online appears to show Ukrainian fighters leaving Bakhmut, with one calling the embattled city “hell.”
“There is hell, everything is burning there,” according to a caption attached to the video on Twitter. “In half an hour, four were injured, two died, that’s all who remained. The authorities abandoned us. There is hell.”
A Twitter account related to the War Translated project, which translates material relating to the Ukraine war for English speakers, posted a video of a Ukrainian soldier named as Kiyanyn on Saturday. He also reported continued heavy fighting and artillery fire.
Kiyanyn said he felt Bakhmut could become a “breaking point” for Russian forces, saying the Ukrainian fighters in the city would resist their attacks.
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