The Hamilton Spectator

Civilians cling on as troops repel Russian offensive efforts


On the largely static front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces that stretches over hundreds of kilometres, from the Black Sea in the south to Ukraine’s northeaste­rn border with Russia, Vuhledar has become one of the deadliest hot spots.

It has joined Bakhmut, Marinka and other cities and towns, particular­ly in fiercely contested eastern Ukraine, as evidence of a grinding and destructiv­e war of attrition, as well as symbols of fierce Ukrainian resistance.

By defending their ruins, Ukrainian forces are slowing costly Russian offensive efforts to extend Moscow’s control over the entirety of eastern Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. It became Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revised target for conquest after his forces were beaten back from the capital, Kyiv, and northern Ukraine in the invasion’s opening stage a year ago.

Ukrainian soldiers are paying a heavy price, too, but say their sacrifices are wearing down waves of troops and equipment that Moscow is throwing into battle.

In Bakhmut, a soldier who allowed himself to be identified only by his war name, “Expert,” said the pulverized city in the Donbas’ Donetsk region “has become a stronghold “for Ukraine.

“See what they have done to it?” he said of Russian forces that have been pounding Bakhmut for months, slowly inching forward with heavy casualties to capture a prize that, if it falls, might allow Moscow to argue that the invasion is making progress.

Battlefiel­ds around Vuhledar, southwest of Bakhmut and also in the Donetsk region, bear witness to the precious equipment and manpower that Russia is expending, with little territoria­l gain. Tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles blown up by mines or stopped in their tracks by Ukrainian strikes are clumped together on the blasted, cratered terrain.

Although Russia has seized most of the Luhansk region that also forms part of the Donbas, the adjacent Donetsk region remains roughly divided between Ukrainian and Russian control.

Ukraine’s military said Sunday that Russian assaults in the east remain concentrat­ed on Bakhmut and other objectives.

Russian forces include mercenarie­s of the notorious Wagner Group, a private military company that has recruited fighters from prisons and tossed them into combat, with high casualty rates.

Its millionair­e owner with longtime links to Putin, former convicted felon Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Saturday that his fighters had advanced into a settlement on Bakhmut’s northern outskirts. The Ukrainian military disputed that claim, saying Russian forces were repelled.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko reported three civilians killed and four wounded in Russian strikes on Saturday. Vuhledar and its surroundin­gs were also intensely shelled, he said.

 ?? SEAN GALLUP GETTY IMAGES ?? Family members walk among the graves of Ukrainian soldiers killed in fighting against the Russians in eastern Ukraine.
SEAN GALLUP GETTY IMAGES Family members walk among the graves of Ukrainian soldiers killed in fighting against the Russians in eastern Ukraine.
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