President Zelensky has pledged to bolster Ukraine’s defenses in Bakhmut, after reports that Kyiv could be preparing for a withdrawal from the heavily fought over frontline city.
What did Zelensky say?
During his daily address on Monday evening, President Zelensky said Ukraine’s military command unanimously supported the view that “there is no part of Ukraine about which one can say that it can be abandoned.”
He added: “There were no other positions. I told the commander in chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut.”
Zelensky went on to add that Bakhmut was actually “yielding one of the greatest results during this war” due to the opportunity to grind down and take out huge numbers of Russian forces.
Adviser of the head of thepresidential office, Mykhaylo Podolyak, also told AFP there was "consensus" within the military on the need to "continue defending" the city.
Neither side has said how many troops they have lost in the battle, with observers saying both Moscow and Kyiv are trying to exhaust one other. Ukraine has claimed that Russia is losing troops at a rate of seven to one compared to Kyiv’s forces.
What’s the current situation on the ground?
The Institute for the Study of War recently said "Ukrainian forces are likely conducting a limited tactical withdrawal in Bakhmut” though it added that “it is still too early to assess Ukrainian intentions concerning a complete withdrawal from the city.”
The Ukrainian army said Sunday its troops had fought off "more than 130" Russian attacks in a single day around Bakhmut and said Moscow's forces were trying to encircle the city.
What’s are Ukrainian troops saying?
Kyiv says the fighting is becoming increasingly difficult and the mood on the ground appears to be bleak. Outside Bakhmut, some Ukrainian soldiers had lost hope that Kyiv would hold the city and looked set to retreat.
Near the town of Chasiv Yar, 10 kilometers (six miles) west of Bakhmut, one soldier said he came to repair his tank after a month of fighting. "Bakhmut will fall," he told AFP from the vehicle.
"We are almost encircled. The units are progressively retreating in small groups."
He said the only path out of Bakhmut was over dirt roads that lead to Chasiv Yar. If tanks get bogged down there, he said, they could become a target for artillery fire.
But a senior Ukrainian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "considering the current positions" of Kyiv's forces near Bakhmut, it is "impossible to besiege" the city.
Do Ukraine’s international allies have an opinion?
The U.S. has expressed the view that withdrawing from Bakhmut would be far from a disaster for Ukraine.
CNN journalist Kaitlan Collins reported on Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he wouldn’t “view it as an operational or strategic setback," arguing it would be “more of a symbolic value” to Moscow than strategic or operational.
It "won’t necessarily mean the Russians have changed the tide of this fight," he added.
So why is Ukraine insisting on holding on?
There are advantages for Ukraine in continuing the fight for Bakhmut. The latest report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) highlights that Russia has had to begin using more elite elements of the armed forces and the Wagner mercenary group as it runs low on poorly trained mobilized troops.
The ISW adds: “The battle of Bakhmut may, in fact, severely degrade the Wagner Group’s best forces, depriving Russia of some of its most effective and most difficult-to-replace shock troops.
“The Wagner attacks already culminated once, causing the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) to commit some of its elite airborne troops to the fight. It may well culminate again before taking the city, once more forcing the Russian military to choose between abandoning the effort or throwing more high-quality troops into the battle.
“The opportunity to damage the Wagner Group’s elite elements, along with other elite units if they are committed, in a defensive urban warfare setting where the attrition gradient strongly favors Ukraine is an attractive one.”
How dire is the situation for Russian forces?
As the fight rages, the head of Russia's mercenary group Wagner that is spearheading the Bakhmut battle has complained his forces there lack ammunition.
Yevgeny Prigozhin alleged late Sunday that Russian reservists meant to deploy to Bakhmut had been diverted and that ammunition promised by the military was days late in arriving.
“We are trying to understand what the reasons are – the usual bureaucracy or betrayal,” Prigozhin said on social media.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter