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Friday, March 31, 2023

Ukraine throws cold water at reports of Bakhmut’s impending fall to Russia

Ukrainian Armed Forces spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi said his country’s troops have not withdrawn en masse from Bakhmut and Ukraine still has control of the city. Cherevatyi’s statement came amid intense fighting and reports from the Russian Wagner group that the city was surrounded.

Speaking to CNN on Saturday, Cherevatyi said: “Fighting in Bakhmut is taking place more on the outskirts, with the city being controlled by Ukrainian defense forces: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Border Guard and the National Guard.”

“There is also no mass withdrawal of Ukrainian troops,” he said. “There were 21 enemy attacks with various artillery systems and MLRS and nine engagements in the vicinity of Bakhmut alone. In total, 131 attacks and 38 battles took place on this front,” said Cherevatyi.

Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander of Ukraine’s National Guard, said in a comment to Ukrainian broadcaster Kyiv2 on Saturday that Russia has not yet managed to capture Bakhmut. On the contrary, he claimed that Ukraine had “stabilized” the front line, although he admitted that Moscow forces had some successes.

“Every hour in Bakhmut is like hell. The enemy had successes a week ago in the north, northwest of Bakhmut. Ukrainian soldiers fight back. In the last few days, thanks to our hard work and efforts, the front line has been stabilized,” Nazarenko said.

“The Kostyantynivka-Bakhmut road is controlled by Ukrainian armed forces. They are doing this with tremendous effort,” he added.

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to protect the city, he also stressed the importance of the fight, but “not at any cost”.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Saturday that the city’s Ukrainian defenses were “under increasingly intense pressure”.

“Ukraine is fortifying the area with elite forces and within the last 36 hours two key bridges in Bakhmut have been destroyed, including a vital bridge connecting the city to the last main supply route from Bakhmut to the city of Khasiv Yar,” the UK Ministry of Defense said continued.

Bakhmut, an eastern city in the Donetsk region, has been the subject of fierce fighting since August 2022. If captured by Moscow’s forces, it could represent a long-awaited achievement for Russian President Vladimir Putin, while bringing limited strategic value. Bakhmut is in a desirable location as important roads connecting Luhansk to the east and Sloviansk to the northwest pass through the city.

Rajan Menon, director of the Grand Strategy program at Defense Priorities, said news week on Saturday: “The Russians have been trying to overrun Bakhmut, a small town, for almost seven months and have not succeeded despite a massive advantage in soldiers and firepower.”

Menon continued: “They suffered heavy casualties and also shelled the city extensively [to] Ruin. Although Bakhmut could well fall given the creeping Russian encirclement, this result will be a Pyrrhic victory for Russia. And it will not open the way for rapid advances deeper into Donetsk province.”

“Ukraine has had ample time to prepare several defense lines beyond Bakhmut, and cities like Kramatorsk are much larger,” he said.

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