“I am in the trenches. We have strengthened ourselves in the positions that Russia once held, Yuriy, a soldier with the Ukrainian Army’s Fifth Separate Assault Brigade, wrote in a text message from a position south of Bakhmut, near the village of Klishchiivka. He spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“Around us there are many dead Russians,” he said.
Ukraine still has parts of the city, including the area around what has become a landmark of Ukraine’s last holdout: a destroyed sculpture of a Soviet MiG fighter jet, according to multiple military personnel involved in defending the position, which Russian forces continue to dispute.
Oleksandr Syrsky, the military commander of eastern Ukraine who paid a surprise visit to the front on Sunday, acknowledged that Ukraine controlled only a “small part” of Bakhmut, but said the new goal was to encircle the city in a “tactical encirclement”, becoming echo a statement posted on Telegram by Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.
News of this strategy to prolong the fighting, regardless of who was technically in control of the city, emerged when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky painted a grim picture of the state of the battle in response to questions during a visit to Hiroshima. , Japan, for a Group of Seven summit meeting. His comments raised questions about what a Ukrainian victory would look like, given the destruction of the city and the costs its defenders have already paid.
“You have to understand, there is nothing,” Zelesnky said Sunday, nothing of Bakhmut as it was ever under control.
The city, in the northeastern Donetsk region, was home to about 70,000 people before Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Since then it has been decimated, battered by some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict, as Russian troops and Wagner Group mercenary forceslargely made up of released Russian prisoners, it gained ground block by block.
On Saturday, Wagner founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin claimed his forces had finally captured the entire city and the Kremlin issued a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin hailing the city’s liberation, referring to it by the Soviet name. Russian, Artyomovsk. Ukraine rejected the claims.
Total capture would be a rare victory for Moscow, which has struggled to secure clear victories since the early days of the war.
But the Russian side has been divided by internal differences over Bakhmut, with Prighozin unleashing an outpouring of public criticism of his Russian military counterparts for their handling of the assault. Ukrainian forces have been able to exploit these differences to hold off an enemy that outnumbers them.
Stanislav Bunyatov, 22, a soldier from the 24th Separate Assault Battalion who was wounded in fighting near the villages of Klishchiivka and Ivanivske on Wednesday, said his unit was able to attack during a period when Wagner’s mercenaries were being replaced. by Russian soldiers.
“They were not ready for us,” said Bunyatov, who is in the city of Dnipro recovering from a shrapnel wound from a grenade.
Accounts of Ukrainian success outside of Bakhmut contrast with accounts of setbacks within the city. On the roads to Chasiv Yar, a town west of Bakhmut that serves as a base for Ukrainian forces, some soldiers offered pessimistic views of the battle for the town.
“Bakhmut is over,” a 47-year-old soldier from the 24th Brigade said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity to share his candid assessment. He said that he had been in town the day before.
Ukrainian advances have been reported in nearby areas, and commanders announced on May 9, Victory in Russia Day, that they had taken more one square mile of territory south of the city. Officials have presented this as a strategic move.
Such advances make it “very difficult for the enemy to stay in Bakhmut,” Maliar wrote on Telegram on Sunday, referring to the capture of high ground outside the city.
The fight for Bakhmut has confused some analysts, who have described it as strategically irrelevant to the war in general. Ukraine is currently preparing a long-awaited spring counter-offensive in which it hopes to penetrate Russian defenses on at least part of its 200-mile front line.
If Russian forces are trapped in Bakhmut, some have argued, it could undermine their readiness elsewhere.
President Biden said in Hiroshima on Sunday that Russia had suffered more than 100,000 casualties at Bakhmut, a staggering figure if accurate.
Russia’s difficulty in holding the city may be compounded by Prighozin’s claim that he intends to withdraw Wagner’s fighters from the city in favor of new trading opportunities. in sudan.
Ukraine, pessimism aside, seems ready to continue the fight. Bunyatov, the soldier recovering from a grenade wound, said he hopes to return to the front, preferably in Bakhmut.
“My brothers in arms are there,” he said.
One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
Portraits from Ukraine: The lives of all Ukrainians have changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion a year ago, in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other. in extreme circumstancesin bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined markets. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has turned from a multi-pronged invasion that included Kiev in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated over a stretch of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between the Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has concentrated..
One year of living apart: The invasion of Russia, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law that prevents men of fighting age from leaving the country, has forced millions of Ukrainian families to make agonizing decisions about how to balance security, duty and love, with lives once intertwined that have become unrecognizable. This is what a train station full of goodbyes It seemed like last year.
Deepening global gaps: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on the issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions have not stopped Russiathanks to its oil and gas exports.