Ukraine is strengthening its positions around Bakhmut in the eastern Donbass region after days of relentless assaults by Russian forces led by the Wagner mercenary group.
Bakhmut and the nearby town of Soledar have been the subject of intense efforts by Moscow to advance in an area where Russian forces have been desperately trying to advance since the start of the summer.
In recent days, Russian attacks have focused on Soledar in an apparent effort to cut off the city. “The enemy again desperately tried to storm the town of Soledar from different directions and threw the most professional units of the Wagnerians into battle,” the Ukrainian military said on Monday, echoing comments made on Sunday. by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Capturing Soledar, which lies northeast of Bakhmut, would put Ukrainian forces in the area at risk of being surrounded and provide Russia with a potential avenue of approach against that town.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, which has been trying to capture Bakhmut and Soledar for months at the cost of many lives on both sides, said on Saturday his importance lay in the network of mineral mines there. “It’s not only [has the ability to hold] a large group of people at a depth of 80-100 meters, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move,” he said.
Military analysts say the strategic military advantage for Moscow would be limited. A US official said Prigozhin, a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was monitoring the salt and gypsum mines.
In late-night video remarks on Sunday, Zelenskiy said Bakhmut and Soledar were holding on despite widespread destruction after months of attacks. “Our soldiers are repelling constant Russian attempts to advance,” he said. At Soledar “things are very difficult,” he added.
At an evacuation center near Kramatorsk, Olha, 60, said she fled Soledar after moving from apartment to apartment as each was destroyed in tank battles. “All last week, we couldn’t go out. Everyone was running everywhere, soldiers with automatic weapons, shouting,” said Olha, who only gave his first name.
“There is not a single house left intact,” she said. “Apartments were burning, breaking in two.” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a Ukrainian military spokesman for the eastern region, said the situation could be stabilized.
“There are brutal and bloody battles there – 106 shellings in one day,” he told Ukrainian television. Our troops in Soledar have received additional forces and means for this purpose and everything is being done to improve the operational situation.
Recent aerial footage of the Bakhmut-Soldar sector showed heavily cratered battlefields dotted with bodies of fallen Russian troops, as Moscow attempted to overwhelm Ukrainian defenses in numbers and perseverance, leading to a surge in Russian battle deaths. .
Analysts have suggested that despite speculation that Russia may be preparing to forcibly conscript up to 500,000 additional troops, Putin’s conscription strategy may be contributing to the rising Russian death toll.
In his weekly analysis of the situation in Ukraine, Phillips P O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, suggested that the high attrition of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine did not bode well. good for a new mobilization.
Calling the mass mobilization in the fall Putin’s “second army,” O’Brien says “raw troop numbers” are unlikely to be decisive on their own.
“Modern industrial warfare requires advanced equipment and well-trained soldiers far more than masses of unmotivated conscripts.
“We can see this in the Russian experience so far. Putin’s Second Army, largely trained since conscription in September, has actually done less well than the more professional force with which the Russians started the war. Since September, Russian soldiers have died in large numbers and made only small gains.
The latest fighting came as strong doubts emerged over Russian claims that 600 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in barracks in Kramatorsk, with journalists visiting the town unable to find evidence of large-scale casualties.
A Reuters team visited two university dormitories which Moscow said were temporarily housing Ukrainian staff and which it had targeted in revenge for a New Year’s Eve attack that killed dozens of Russian soldiers and caused outcry in Russia.
None of the dormitories appear to have been directly hit or seriously damaged. There were no obvious signs that soldiers had lived there and no signs of bodies or traces of blood.
However, the Kremlin said it was confident its defense ministry was right when it said 600 Ukrainian servicemen were “destroyed” in the attack. Some pro-Kremlin military bloggers criticized these claims.
“Let’s talk about ‘fraud’,” a prominent pro-war military blogger wrote on the Telegram messaging app, which publishes as Military Informant and has more than half a million subscribers.
“We don’t know who, and for what reason, decided that 600 Ukrainian soldiers died inside, all at once, if the building was not actually hit (even the light remained on).”