The fight for the eastern city of Bakhmut could be reaching a precarious moment for Ukraine, with analysts describing the situation as “critical.”
What’s the latest situation?
Getting an accurate picture of what’s happening on the ground remains tricky, but AFP journalists near Bakhmut saw Ukrainian forces close roads toward the embattled salt-mining town, raising the specter of a possible Ukrainian withdrawal.
The Ukrainian military has insisted that “no such decision had been taken so far,” and fighting is continuing.
Oleksiy Reva, mayor and head of the city’s military administration, said: “Heavy battles are ongoing for our Bakhmut.”
The Institute for the Study of War’s latest assessment states: “Geolocated footage posted on March 1 confirms that Russian forces have made advances on the southern outskirts of Bakhmut.
“Russian milbloggers claimed that Wagner Group fighters have consolidated control of the outskirts of Yahidne (1 kilometer northwest of Bakhmut) and are moving southwest towards Khromove, though Ukrainian forces retain access to the Khromove-Bakhmut route.”
Is a Ukrainian withdrawal likely?
Again, it’s difficult to say for certain but comments from some Ukrainian officials suggest it’s certainly on the cards.
Speaking to NV radio on Wednesday night, parliamentarian Serhiy Rakhmanin, said: “I believe that sooner or later, we will probably have to leave Bakhmut.”
Referring to comments made previously by President Zelensky, he added: “There is no sense in holding it at any cost.”
“But for the moment, Bakhmut will be defended with several aims – firstly, to inflict as many Russian losses as possible and make Russia use its ammunition and resources.”
Rakhmanin said it was crucial not to let the Ukrainian front collapse, saying: “There are two ways to approach [a withdrawal] – an organized retreat or simple flight. And we cannot allow flight to take place under any circumstances.”
What is the cost to Russia?
Accurate numbers of dead and wounded on both sides are difficult to verify, but by all accounts, the cost to Russia is absolutely massive. According to military analyst Oleh Zhdanov, the Russian army is shipping in conscripts and then taking out the injured non-stop.
What is the cost to Ukraine?
Ukrainian losses are almost certainly heavy but there aren’t any official figures. What we do know is that Ukrainian forces are facing huge pressure from mass attacks of Russian troops.
Zhdanov said: “There is a danger that our garrison in Bakhmut will be encircled.”
He assessed the situation as “critical,” adding: “The enemy is attempting to sever the routes used to supply our forces in Bakhmut and halt all movement along them.
“The Russian forces cannot win street battles in Bakhmut or take the city by attacking head-on. The only way they can take the city is to surround it.
“They are applying what can be described as colossal pressure, with wave upon wave of attacks. They bring in reinforcements in trucks and take away their wounded aboard the same trucks. This process is constant – like a conveyor belt – around the clock.”
What about Bakhmut’s residents?
There are still civilians in the town. The city, which once had a population of around 70,000, has seen a gradual exodus and now only 4,500 people remain, Reva said.
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