The war-ravaged eastern city of Bakhmut could fall victim to Russian forces, with Kiev officials saying the military is considering withdrawing troops from the city, which has become a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance.
Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told CNN that Kyiv’s military “obviously will weigh all options.” “So far they have held the city, but if necessary they will withdraw strategically,” he said.
Since the conflict began just over a year ago, Bakhmut has been one of the most hotly contested theaters of the war. Clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces around the industrial city have recently intensified. Zelensky has vowed to protect Bakhmut and said it was important to hold on to the city, but not at any cost.
The city in Ukraine’s Donetsk region has become an important symbol of the resistance. “Bachmut holds!” has become a national rallying cry for Ukrainian soldiers, their supporters and even Zelenskyy.
For Russia, if captured, the city would serve as a stepping stone to their goal of conquering the entire Donbass region – one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declared war goals when he launched his invasion last February.
Several developments in the city over the past few days suggest it may eventually fall to Russian forces.
A Ukrainian commander with the callsign Magyar said in a video posted on his Telegram channel that his unit was ordered to leave Bakhmut immediately.
“On the night of March 2, the Birds of the Magyar unit received a combat order to immediately leave Bakhmut for a new location,” he said.
“What are the reasons for the transfer at a critical moment for Bakhmut, when we spent 110 days here on combat duty? First of all, a military, so I will not comment on Bakhmut Defense Command orders. We’re following an order,” he said.
Another Ukrainian soldier stationed in Bakhmut told FRANCE 24 on March 1 that he believes “Bakhmut will most likely fall.”
On Friday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group heavily involved in fighting in Bakhmut, released a video message to Zelenskyy saying that Bakhmut was surrounded. He also showed what he described as prisoners of war and asked Zelensky if they could return home to their families.
The fall of Bakhmut would bring a setback to Ukraine. This is what Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, said news week on February 17 that Bakhmut is “a living wall allowing our troops to prepare for de-occupation” – implying that a successful defense of the city could enable the Ukrainians to launch a counteroffensive.
It would also be highly symbolic for Russia, as it would mark Putin’s first major victory on the battlefield since the summer of 2022.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday the battle for the city will become even more difficult as warmer weather conditions set in and create the muddy conditions known as “Bezdorizhzhia” in Ukrainian, which will limit movement over land.
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