KYIV, UKRAINE (AFP) -Kyiv said yesterday it was holding off attacks from Russian troops still attempting to surround Bakhmut, a now-destroyed eastern Ukrainian city that Moscow has been trying to capture for months.
Ukraine has vowed to defend “fortress Bakhmut” but it has faced Russian troops determined to take the city that has turned into a political prize as the battle drags on.
The Ukrainian general staff said “more than 130 enemy attacks” had been repelled over the past day including in Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
“The enemy continues its attempts to encircle the town of Bakhmut,” it said yesterday morning.
Bakhmut has been mostly reduced to rubble during the longest and bloodiest battle of the invasion.
A spokesman for Ukrainian forces Sergiy Cherevaty, said on Saturday the situation was “difficult but under control” in the city he described as a “priority target for the enemy”.
There is fighting in an around the city, the United States-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said, warning that with Ukrainian supply routes were narrowing.
“The Russians may have intended to encircle Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian command has signalled that it will likely withdraw rather than risk an encirclement,” ISW said on Saturday. Ukraine and Russia have since the summer fiercely fought for the city, whose symbolic importance surpassed its military significance.
Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk region posted a video purporting to show Wagner fighters in the suburbs north of Bakhmut, having taken control over the Stupki railway station.
Wagner, a private army headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, has taken centre stage in the fight for the city, which has exposed rivalries with Russia’s conventional forces.
On Friday, Prigozhin said his fighters had “practically encircled” Bakhmut, and only one road remained under Ukrainian control.
Prigozhin has for weeks been publicising the advances of his men towards the eastern city.
Prigozhin regularly posts videos of himself alongside mercenaries, on the ground or even in a fighter jet, in contrast with Russian generals criticised for shirking the frontline.
In a rare exception, Russia on Saturday released a video of defence minister Sergei Shoigu inspecting troops in frontline regions in Ukraine.
The ministry said Sergei Shoigu inspected an advance command post in the South Donetsk direction without specifying exactly where or when.