The Daily Telegraph

Kyiv prepares a fighting withdrawal at end of battle for Bakhmut

- By James Kilner

KYIV’S armed forces are preparing a fighting withdrawal from Bakhmut in east Ukraine as Russian soldiers try to encircle them and capture the city.

Russian military bloggers and Western intelligen­ce reports said Russian forces had advanced in the destroyed city but that Ukrainian special forces were counteratt­acking.

“The armed forces of Ukraine are withdrawin­g forces from the central and western regions of Bakhmut,” said Rybar, a blogging unit with close ties to the Russian armed forces.

“These efforts are only intended to buy time and delay the Russian units as much as possible. The battle for Bakhmut is close to its end.”

The Ukrainian military and city officials have insisted they are holding back Russian forces, but even Kyiv’s Western supporters have said that Russia’s army and the Kremlin-linked Wagner mercenary group have gained the upper hand.

“Ukrainian forces are likely setting conditions for a controlled fighting withdrawal out of particular­ly difficult sectors of eastern Bakhmut, although it is not clear that Ukrainian commanders have decided to withdraw at this time,” the Us-based Institute for the Study of War said.

Russian forces have besieged Bakhmut for around seven months. Thousands of soldiers have died, and only around 4,000 civilians, out of a pre-war population of around 70,000 people, remain. Most of the buildings have been reduced to rubble.

Over the weekend rescue missions by vehicles were stopped as they are considered too dangerous. Civilians were told to flee on foot.

Oleksandr Marchenko, the deputy mayor of Bakhmut, said only 5-10 people were escaping the city each day, compared to several hundred a few weeks ago. Analysts have said there is little strategic value in capturing Bakhmut, although it will deliver a morale boost. It would be Putin’s first military victory for roughly a year.

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