Ukraine vows to defend ‘Bakhmut fortress’ as battle rages


Kiev has said it is holding back attacks from Russian forces still trying to encircle Bakhmut, a nearly destroyed eastern Ukrainian city that Moscow has been trying to capture for months.

Ukraine has pledged to defend “fortress Bakhmut” but has faced Russian troops determined to take the city that has become a political prize as the battle continues.

The Ukrainian General Staff said “more than 130 enemy attacks” had been repelled in the past day, including in Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

“The enemy continues its efforts to encircle the city of Bakhmut,” it said on Sunday morning.

Bakhmut has been largely reduced to rubble in the longest and bloodiest battle of the invasion.

Sergiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, said on Saturday that the situation was “difficult but under control” in the city he described as a “priority target for the enemy”.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag: “The losses of the Russians amount to 500 killed and wounded a day.”

The casualty figures could not be independently verified.

According to Reznikov, Bakhmut is “a symbolic place for the Russians”, which is why they are making such an effort to conquer it. However, the capture would mean nothing for the further course of the fighting in the eastern Donbas region, he told the newspaper.

Fighting is raging in and around the city, the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said, warning that Ukrainian supply routes were shrinking.

“The Russians may have intended to encircle Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian command has indicated it will likely withdraw rather than risk an encirclement,” ISW said on Saturday.

Ukraine and Russia have fought fiercely since the summer over the city, whose symbolic importance has transcended military significance.

‘Fighting with Spades’

Russian reservists are reportedly armed with shovels due to a shortage of ammunition, the British Ministry of Defense wrote on Twitter in its latest intelligence update.

Last month, Russian mobilized reservists had described being ordered to attack a Ukrainian concrete outpost armed only with “firearms and shovels,” the ministry said.

“The lethality of the standard MPL-50 entrenchment tool has been mythologized especially in Russia,” the ministry tweeted.

“Little has changed since its design in 1869, but its continued use as a weapon emphasizes the ruthless and low-tech combat that has come to characterize much of the war.”

The ministry said recent evidence suggested there had been more close combat in Ukraine, adding that there was likely “less support from artillery fire because Russia is short of ammunition”.

The ministry has been publishing daily updates on the progress of Russia’s war against Ukraine since its inception in February last year, in an effort to counter the Russian narrative. The British updates are dismissed by the Kremlin as propaganda.


Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk region posted a video supposedly showing Wagner fighters in the suburbs north of Bakhmut taking control of the Stupki train station.

Wagner, a private army led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, is at the center of the battle for the city, which has revealed rivalries with Russia’s conventional forces.

Prigozhin previously recruited men from Russian prisons. The number of casualties is said to be extremely high among these prisoners in particular.

The human rights organization “Russia Behind Bars” recently said that of the 50,000 mercenaries recruited from prisons, only 10,000 remained at the front. The rest had fallen, been wounded, captured or deserted.

On Friday, Prigozhin said his fighters had “virtually surrounded” Bakhmut and only one road remained under Ukrainian control.

Prigozhin has been publishing his men’s advance to the eastern city for weeks.

He regularly posts videos of himself next to mercenaries, on the ground or even in a fighter jet, in contrast to Russian generals who are criticized for avoiding the front lines.

In a rare exception, Russia on Saturday released video of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspecting troops in front-line areas in Ukraine.

The ministry said Shoigu inspected a forward command post south of Donetsk, without specifying exactly where or when.

He was seen traveling in a helicopter and talking to a soldier in front of damaged buildings.

The ISW think tank said Shoigu went there “probably to assess the magnitude of Russian losses around Vugledar and the possibility of a further offensive in this direction”.

Later on Sunday, Russia said its army hit a command center of the Azov regiment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the southeastern region of Zaporizhia.

The Defense Ministry did not address the attack in its daily update on what Moscow calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The Azov regiment, which had far-right and ultra-nationalist origins and is now a unit of Ukraine’s National Guard, gained international attention for its resistance to last year’s Russian siege of the sprawling Mariupol steel mill.

Zaporizhia is one of four regions – along with Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson – that Russia claims to have annexed but never fully controlled.

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