The situation in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was “extremely tense” on Tuesday, the commander of Ukrainian ground forces said, as Russian troops besieging it stepped up their assault in a bid to encircle it.
Russia is trying to cut the Ukrainian defenders’ supply lines to the city, the scene of some of the war’s toughest fighting, and force them to surrender or withdraw. That would give Russia its first major prize in more than half a year and open the way to the capture of the last remaining urban centres in the Donetsk region.
“Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner, who are trying to break through the defences of our troops and surround the city,” Ukraine’s Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi was quoted as saying on a military messaging platform.
Ukraine’s military said earlier Russia had strengthened its forces in the Bakhmut area and was shelling settlements around the city.
“Our soldiers repelled more than 60 enemy attacks,” the military said early on Tuesday referring to Bakhmut and nearby eastern areas, adding that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks on the villages of Yadhidne and Berkhivka, on the northern approaches to Bakhmut.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Russian forces had driven a wedge between those villages as they tried to cut the road west to Chasiv Yar.
“The southern part of Bakhmut is the only area which can be described as under Ukrainian control. In all other districts, the situation is unpredictable,” he said in a video commentary, adding: “It is impossible to say where the front line lies.”
Ukrainian soldiers in the Donetsk region hunkered in muddy trenches after warmer weather thawed out the frozen ground.
“Both sides stay in their positions, because as you see, spring means mud. Thus, it is impossible to move forward,” said Mykola, 59, commander of a Ukrainian front-line rocket launcher battery, watching a tablet screen for co-ordinates to fire.
The spring thaw, known as the rasputitsa, has a history of ruining plans by armies to attack across Ukraine and western Russia, turning roads into rivers and fields into quagmires. Reuters saw several military vehicles stuck in mud. In a zigzag trench, a platoon commander said his men were prepared to operate in any weather.
Russia, its forces replenished with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, has intensified its attacks along the eastern front but its assaults have come at a high cost, Ukraine and its allies say.
“Vicious battles are going on there. The command is doing everything it can to stop the enemy from advancing through our territory,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told Ukrainian television.