Under the bombs and the shaking walls of a military underground shelter, a Ukrainian soldier is evacuated with an ambulance in Bakhmutthe current epicenter of the Ukrainian war where the Ukrainian army tries to resist the Russian advance.
Soldiers and nurses give this wounded soldier, with his bloody face, the first treatments before going into hiding again, while an intense Russian bombardment continues.
“Doctor, why am I so cold? I feel like I’m leaving”, says the soldier who lies on a mattress full of mud.
A news agency team AFP was able to report on Sunday in Bakhmut, in a rare opportunity for the press to see the devastation of this town in eastern Ukraine.
Before the conflict, some 70,000 peoplebut now it became a symbol of the war of attrition that led to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The journalists accompanied Ukrainian soldiers and constantly heard the noise of Russian artillery fire during their time in Bakhmut.
Around residential buildings there is no longer a trace of their inhabitants and the shadow of war is omnipresent, from the ruins and the pieces of glass scattered on the ground to the planted crosses that indicate the location of the improvised graves of soldiers killed in combat.
Faced with the Russian army and the paramilitaries of the wagner groupwhich control 80% of Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops resist as best they can in the western part of this Donbas city.
Both sides suffered significant casualties in this battle, the longest of the Ukrainian war and which currently monopolizes the war efforts, waiting for the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, announced on several occasions but later postponed.
“We are tired”
“They do not stop attacking us, day and night. They only stop when we attack them and they are busy evacuating their dead and wounded,” explains a deputy commander of a Ukrainian unit, whose war nickname is “Philosopher.”
“Little by little, they are scratching areas” of the city, he says from an underground command post in Bakhmut.
“We are tired and the troops are exhausted,” acknowledges “Filosofo,” who explains that his men from the 93rd brigade sometimes find themselves less than three meters from the enemy.
Ukrainian President, Volodimir Zelenskywarned in March that the fall of Bakhmut would give the Russian army free rein to advance into Donbas, with its sights on the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
The Ukrainian government’s decision not to give up Bakhmut has come at a significant cost to the Ukrainian military, which suffers daily with soldiers being killed or wounded.
“Every day that we resist here, we give other units an opportunity to prepare for a counteroffensive,” says this deputy commander, who, like many of the Ukrainian soldiers present in the area, complains about the lack of ammunition.
“Nowhere to hide”
Nevertheless, the defense of the city hangs by a threadrather, of a road.
Highway T 0504, renamed “the road of life”, is the only road in the city that is still in the hands of the Ukrainian troops and that serves to supply them.
Images recorded with drones by the reconnaissance teams of the Ukrainian army, and which AFP could see, they show an endless succession of buildings in ruins, as well as vehicles and burned trees on the sides of this last disputed road.
“We fortify our positions and the Russians come throwing everything they have and everything they can. They bombard everything with missiles, mortar shells and tanks. There is nowhere to hide,” admits Andriy, another 38-year-old soldier.
Commander Andriy, 26, mans a cannon in the middle of a waterlogged field near Bakhmut.
Your task is essential: it is to prevent a Russian attack from the road.
“If they manage to cut it (the road), everyone in Bakhmut will be dead. We will have no provisions, ammunition or food. Nothing. We will be completely isolated ”, he explains while his men are piling up the shells they have just received.
(With information from AFP)
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