Russian forces have stepped up their offensive against Ukrainian positions around the battered eastern city of Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian authorities, bringing new levels of death and destruction to a months-old battle for control of eastern Ukraine in the latest war. wide of Russia.
“Everything is completely destroyed, almost no life left”Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday night of the scene around Bakhmut and the nearby town of Soledar.
“All the land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupants and scars from the attacks,” the president said. “It is the image of madness”.
The Kremlin, which has suffered numerous setbacks in the invasion of the neighboring country that it launched 10 and a half months ago, needs any victory. Russia illegally annexed Donetsk and three other Ukrainian provinces in September, but its troops have struggled to advance.
After Ukrainian troops retook the southern city of Kherson last November, the fighting around Bakhmut intensified.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that Russia had sent “a large number of assault groups” into the battle.
“The enemy is literally advancing on the bodies of their own soldiers and using massive artillery, rocket launchers and mortars, hitting their own troops,” he said.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the kyiv-appointed governor of the Donetsk region, on Tuesday described the Russian attacks on Soledar and Bakhmut as constants.
“The Russian army is reducing Ukrainian cities to rubble using all kinds of weapons in their scorched-earth tactics,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks. “Russia wages a war without rules, which produces suffering and civilian deaths.”
For his part, the Moscow-backed leader in the occupied areas of Donetsk said on Tuesday that Russian forces were “very close” to taking Soledar. But the advances came “at a very high price,” Denis Pushilin told Russian state television.
Controlling the city would create “good prospects” for taking Bakhmut, Pushilin said, as well as for a subsequent attack on Siversk, a town further north where Ukrainian fortifications “are also quite important.”
The British Ministry of Defense agreed with this analysis of the situation. Russian troops and soldiers from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, have advanced in recent days on Soledar and “probably control the majority of the settlement,” the ministry said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Soledar, 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of Bakhmut, is likely Moscow’s immediate military target and part of a strategy to encircle Bakhmut.
However, the British report added that “Ukrainian forces maintain stable defensive lines in depth and control over supply routes” in the area.
One unique aspect of the battle near Bakhmut is that some of the fighting is taking place at the approaches to disused salt mine tunnels, which stretch some 200 kilometers (120 miles) under the area, the British intelligence report said.
“Probably both sides are concerned that (the tunnels) could be used for infiltration behind their lines,” he said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whose work has been widely criticized in some circles in Russia but who retains the confidence of President Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday that the army will use its experience in Ukraine to improve its combat training.
Military communications and control systems will be upgraded with artificial intelligence, Shoigu said, and troops will receive better tactical equipment and materiel.
The Kremlin argues that it is not only fighting Ukraine, but also its NATO allies. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that NATO members “have become a party to the conflict, smuggling weapons, technology and intelligence information into Ukraine.”
Several cities on the front in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk have seen heavy fighting in recent months.
The two provinces form Donbas, a vast industrial region bordering Russia that Putin identified as a priority at the start of the war. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces in the area since 2014.
The harsh Russian eastern offensive captured almost all of Luhansk during the summer. Donetsk has resisted, so the Russian army has increased its manpower and resources around Bakhmut.
Taking Bakhmut would cut off Ukrainian supply routes and open an avenue for Russian forces to push towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, two key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.
Like Mariupol and other disputed cities, Bakhmut has suffered a long siege and spent weeks without running water or electricity even before Moscow launched massive attacks on public infrastructure across Ukraine.
Kyrylenko, the governor of the region, estimated more than two months ago that 90% of Bakhmut’s pre-war population of 70,000 had fled since Moscow focused on seizing all of Donbas.
The Ukrainian presidential office reported at least four civilians killed and another 30 wounded in Russian strikes between Monday and Tuesday.
Russian forces fired shells at the port of Ochakiv and the surrounding area Monday night and again early Tuesday, according to Vitaliy Kim, governor of the southern Mykolaiv region. In the attacks on Monday, 15 people were injured, he said, including a two-year-old boy.
(with information from AP)
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