Ukrainian armor-infantry teams kicked off local attacks on Sunday against the Bakhmut northern suburb villages Yahidne and Berkivka. The attacks were still in progress on Monday, but it was not possible to determine their progress, a Kyiv Post survey of relevant sources found.
On Saturday General Oleksandr Syrksy, commander of the AFU’s ground forces, visited Bakhmut personally. Hours later, Ukrainian combat engineers blew up a retaining dam on a waterway dividing the two villages to the north of the city, reportedly flooding a 3-5 kilometer swath of ground in the path of attacking Russian troops.
The flooding reportedly made low ground in the area impassible to vehicles and practically uncrossable by infantry. Unconfirmed Ukrainian reports alleged some Russian troops, members of the Wagner Group, a mercenary company employed by the Kremlin, were cut off by the flooding.
Russian troops led by Wagner Group fighters on Saturday, following weeks of heavy fighting near Bakhmut, captured Yahidne, effectively denying use of the M-03 highway, one of three key AFU supply routes into the city, to the Ukrainians.
Denis Pushilin, head of Russian forces in the Donetsk region, in a Sunday statement claimed the Ukrainian assault was insignificant, that “there was no significant harm” from the dam’s detonation and that Russian attacks to encircle Bakhmut sector were continuing apace.
Evhen Oropai, a Ukrainian National Guard company commander, in a Feb. 26 statement said that Russian artillery fire was stronger than Ukrainian artillery fire in the Bakhmut sector, but claimed AFU infantry was using superior tactics and better terrain to counter-attack against Russian troops.
A Monday video published by a soldier in 93rd Mechanized Brigade, from the center of Bakhmut, claimed that Ukrainian defenses were holding. A Sunday video from the AFU’s Chechen Legion, a volunteer unit drawn from Russia’s Caucasus districts, likewise asserted the city was fully under Ukrainian control.
The AFU counterattacks, according to news and unit social reports, were led by elements of 3rd Assault Brigade and 17th Tank Brigade, both veteran units with combat experience on multiple fronts. If successful, the assaults could capture the villages Yahidne and Berkivka and push Russian Federation (RF) forces away from the M-03 highway. Information feeds from 3rdAssault showed images of Russian troops attempting to hide from artillery strikes and drone-dropped grenades. The unit did not respond to a Kyiv Post request for comment.
AFU spokespersons over the past year of fighting have avoided commenting on attacks in progress. The Ukraine Army General Staff (AGS) Monday situation estimate made no mention of the AFU assaults to the north of Bakhmut, only acknowledging heavy Russian artillery fire in that sector.
The unit did not respond immediately to a Kyiv Post request for comment.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday warned that the situation around the frontline hotspot of Bakhmut was getting increasingly difficult.
"The situation is getting more and more complicated," he said in his evening address.
"The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions," he said, calling Ukrainian soldiers fighting for Bakhmut "real heroes."
Pro-Kremlin Russian journalist German Kulikovskiy in Monday comments predicted Moscow’s troops would soon push the AFU out of Bakhmut: “In my opinion the (Russian swear word for “Ukrainians”) have already written Bakhmut off.”
“(AFU commander Valery) Zaluzhny is using his favorite tactic of delaying our (Russian) troops as long as he can, by creating a gauntlet (through which Russian troops must fight) of territorial defense battalions, recently-mobilized troops and a few combat-capable units,” Kulikovskiy said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Bakhmut, in peacetime a coal-mining town with some 70,000 residents, a top objective for the Kremlin’s forces tasked with conquest of Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
Kremlin critics like former KGB agent and military pundit Igor Girkin have argued Putin and his generals have fixated on capture of Bakhmut for prestige and propaganda purposes, rather than real military need.
Girkin in Monday comments on the battles in Bakhmut said: “The storm of the Bakhmut-Soledar junction by the forces of "Wagner," which has forced them (Wagner) into constricted terrain, has been going on for almost two months. It was supplemented by the unsuccessful and very bloody assaults of Avdiivka and Vuhledar, which had no other results for the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation except for losses.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called Bakhmut “a fortress” against which the AFU hopes to inflict serious losses on attacking Russian forces, but not a place “that should be held at absolutely any cost.”
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