Russian troops and mercenaries are closing in on Bakhmut, leaving one way out for civilians and fighters, with even Ukrainian fighters getting orders to leave immediately.
Both sides admitted they had inflicted devastating casualties in the battle for Ukraine’s stronghold of Bakhmut. Even Kiev had to concede that while its soldiers were still holding out, the situation for his troops had worsened dramatically this week.
Russian artillery repeatedly shelled the last access routes to besieged Bakhmut on Friday, March 3, bringing Moscow closer to its first hard-won victory in half a year in one of the messiest episodes of the war.
The pincers are getting tighter
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, said in a video recorded some 7 km (4 miles) north of Bakhmut published on Friday that Bakhmut was “practically surrounded” by his troops, leaving Kiev’s forces and what’s left of the former 70.000 inhabitants to give up fighting and seek refuge.
Prigozhin, wearing a military uniform in the video, called on Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy to withdraw his forces from the small city.
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“I am addressing the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskiy. Dear Volodymyr Oleksanrovych, Wagner PMC units have practically surrounded Bakhmut,” Prigozhin said.
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“Only one road is left (open to Ukrainian fighters). The pincers are getting tighter. If earlier the professional Ukrainian army fought with us, today we see more and more old people and children,” he continued.
“They fight, but their life under Bakhmut is short. One or two days. Let them leave the city. The city is practically surrounded.”
Prigozhin’s men have been at the forefront for months in their attempts to reconquer Bakhmut and surrounding cities in the Donbas area in eastern Ukraine. Once they’ve taken Bakhmut, or Artyomovsk, as the Russians call it, they will feel more confident in assailing nearby and bigger cities like Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
One day earlier, Prigozhin released another video showing his men inside Bakhmut. Reuters verified the footage and said the video was shot east of Bakhmut, around 1.2 miles (2 km) from the city center.
According to Ukraine, the town has little inherent strategic value, but the significant losses there could affect how the war plays out. In the second half of 2022, it recaptured large areas of ground, but its forces have now been on the back foot for three months.
Ukraine’s last men standing
The commander of Ukraine’s ground troops, Oleksandr Syrskyi, paid a visit to Bakhmaut on Friday where he discussed their defense plan with the local commanders in the town.
“The enemy is not giving up its hope of capturing Bakhmut and continues to build up forces to occupy the city,” Syrskyi said, according to Reuters.
In a video shared on social media, Robert Brovdi, known by his alias “Madyar,” the commander of a Ukrainian drone squad operating in Bakhmut, declared that his team had received an immediate withdrawal order from the military. He claimed that he had fought there for 110 days.
Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander in the National Guard of Ukraine, told Ukrainian NV Radio their position was “critical,” with clashes “around the clock.”
“They take no account of their losses in trying to take the city by assault. The task of our military in Bakhmut is to inflict as many losses on the enemy as possible. Every meter of Ukrainian land costs hundreds of lives to the enemy,” Nazarenko said.
“We need as much ammunition as possible. There are many more Russians here than we have ammunition to destroy them.”
Since Russia invaded its pro-NATO neighbor a year ago, tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians on both sides are believed to have died.
Reuters contributed to this article