Russian forces are edging closer and closer to capturing the city of Bakhmut, after weeks of bloody fighting gradually wore down a resolute Ukrainian resistance. Here’s what you need to know about the battle for Bakhmut:
Why is Bakhmut in focus?
Bakhmut is not the sort of city Moscow had hoped to be fighting for in the second year of its invasion – it is a relatively small location in eastern Donetsk, which has remained out of reach of Russia’s sluggish ground campaign for many months.
Russian forces have been making incremental gains around the city, but Ukrainian forces are yet to retreat, creating a standoff that recalls drawn-out battles for other eastern cities such as Severodonetsk over the past year.
Bakhmut’s capture would represent some military progress for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and give his forces the opportunity to launch aerial attacks on more urban areas further west.
What’s happening on the ground?
There are still around 4,500 civilians in Bakhmut, including 48 children, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Donetsk regional military administration Tetiana Ignatchenko told CNN on Wednesday. She called on people to evacuate the city due to the danger.
But Ukrainian troops have acknowledged that it is becoming harder to hold onto the city as the routes in from the west are squeezed by Russian forces, who have advanced both to the north and south of Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian military has also confirmed that Russian forces are employing more experienced fighters from the ranks of the Russian private military company Wagner as they attempt to capture the town.
What does Bakhmut mean for the war?
The city’s capture would represent a long sought-after success for Moscow’s forces – and bring some limited strategic value. It has important road connections to other parts of the Donetsk region; eastwards to the border with Luhansk, northwest to Sloviansk and southwest to Kostiantynivka.
If the Russians can take the high ground to the west of the city, nearby industrial towns Kostiantynivka and Kramatorsk would be at the mercy of their artillery and even longer range mortars. And it is unclear where exactly Ukrainian forces would fall back to should they retreat from the city.
It also matters to Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been keen to show his men can deliver with the seizure of Soledar and now Bakhmut.
But experts say capturing Bakhmut is unlikely to dramatically alter the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine, where little territory has changed hands in 2023.
CNN’s Tim Lister, Vasco Cotovio, Olga Voitovych, Jessie Gretener, Eleanor Pickston, and Laura Ford contributed reporting