The city of Bakhmut has been devastated in the fighting. This aerial view is from May 23, 2023.
Defense of Ukraine | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Clashes are continuing around the devastated city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine and Moscow is still suffering “significant losses” despite a relative easing of combat operations in recent days, Kyiv’s armed forces said on Sunday.
Russia claimed late last month to have captured Bakhmut following what had become the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, but Ukraine says its forces still retain a small foothold and denies that Moscow is in full control of the city.
Ukraine’s top military command said in its daily report on Sunday that Russian forces had carried out two unsuccessful operations around Bakhmut and launched a number of air strikes and artillery shelling on nearby villages.
It said some 23 combat clashes had taken place over the past 24 hours in the Donetsk region, where Bakhmut is located, and in neighbouring Luhansk. Russia claims to have annexed both regions from Ukraine, along with three others, including Crimea.
“The enemy continues to suffer significant losses in the Bakhmut direction,” the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on the Telegram messaging app on Saturday after visiting troops in the area. “Defence forces continue to fight. We will win.”
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.
Bakhmut, once home to 70,000 people, has no strategic value, according to military analysts, but Moscow has said capturing it would help its forces to advance deeper into eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said Kyiv’s forces still controlled the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut.
Responding to her comments, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, the main driving force behind Moscow’s offensive in Bakhmut, said on Sunday Ukrainian troops may have set up observation posts there.
“If this is the case, then wait for the next steps,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio post on Telegram.
Prigozhin said earlier this week that 99% of his fighters had left Bakhmut after handing it over to Russia’s army.
British defence intelligence said on Saturday that Russia continued to redeploy regular military units to the Bakhmut sector, replacing Wagner fighters.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview published on Saturday that his forces were ready to launch the long-expected counteroffensive to reclaim territory now occupied by Russia.
Kyiv hopes the counteroffensive will change the dynamics of the war that has raged since Russia invaded its smaller neighbour 15 months ago.