The situation in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which the Russians have been trying to encircle for months, is being described as “worse than in Mariupol”.
Children caught up in the fight for Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, are suffering “putrid flesh in their arms and legs” with no access to humanitarian or medical aid, a soldier-turned-volunteer has told Kyiv Post.
Petro Stone described an unfolding humanitarian disaster that he witnessed first-hand while trying to help evacuate civilians trapped in the eastern city which Russian forces have repeatedly tried to take. Indeed, Bakhmut has become the hottest spot along the front line for the last several weeks.
“The situation in Bakhmut is much worse than in Mariupol. The Russians have totally destroyed the city,” he said.
“Up to 15,000 people remain in Bakhmut at the moment. I saw up to 300 children there. The living conditions there are terrible. They burn fires in their houses on the floor.
Everyone looks dirty, and their clothes are very worn and disease-ridden. I saw people and children with wounds, putridflesh in their arms and legs.”
Bakhmut became a frontline in the fighting in May, when Ukrainian forces retreated from Popasna and Russians were targeting the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
In early summer, the Russian army managed to captureSeverodonetsk and Lysychansk, but their offensive stalled on the approaches to Bakhmut. The Ukrainian defensive lines repelledthe attacks despite Russia’s artillery advantage .
Since then Russia has thrown wave after wave of troops at the city in unsuccessful and costly attempts to take it. The spokesperson for the Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces, Serhii Cherevatyi, said that Russian troops there are suffering losses on the order of 50 wounded and 50 killed in action per day.
“The massacre in Bakhmut has been going on for months,” says Stone. “It’s a meat grinder and our military is fighting back successfully.
Our military repels more than 10 Russian attacks a day. The enemy throws newly mobilized, untrained people in waves to overcome our fortifications, but they fail.”
The intense fighting means evacuating civilians is often toodangerous, leaving many trapped and unable to leave. Others are still unwilling to abandon their homes.
“The Russians are covering Bakhmut with fire 24/7. Rockets, artillery – everything flies into residential buildings, schools and kindergartens,” says Stone.
“We evacuate those who want to go – there is no forced evacuation. We take those who express a desire to leave.”
Those who cannot escape face horrific conditions as winter sets in. “They burn fires in their houses on the floor,” says Stone.
“There are not enough stoves and heaters. People burn fires to cook on the streets. The Donbas has a harsh climate, with extreme winds, so -7 [Celsius] feels like -20. The fires lit on bricks are extinguished by the wind. People live there in very difficult conditions.”
The fighting shows no signs of abating.
Russian sources have recently reported about their army’s successes in the Bakhmut direction, particularly the capture of several villages to the south of the city.
Some Russian war correspondents claim that the front is collapsing and that the Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut will soon be encircled, but analysts at the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) believe that Russia is exaggerating its achievements and there is nothing to indicate an imminent encirclement of Bakhmut.
According to ISW, even if Russian forces do manage to control settlements south of Bakhmut, these successes do not threaten the critical supply routes to Seversk and Kostyantynivka.
“The price of these victories are titanic efforts,” says Stone. “The fact that we are repelling many such fierce Russian offensives is already a victory.”
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