Las Vegas Review-Journal

Ukraine pressing on in Bakhmut

Zelenskyy advisers agree ‘not to retreat’

- By Mstyslav Chernov

CHASIV YAR, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed Monday not to retreat from Bakhmut as Russian forces encroached on the devastated eastern city they have sought to capture for six months at the cost of thousands of lives.

Less than a week ago, an adviser to Zelenskyy said the defenders might give up on Bakhmut and fall back to nearby positions.

But Zelenskyy on Monday chaired a meeting in which top military brass “spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthen­ing our positions in Bakhmut.” Later in his nightly video address, the president reported that his advisers unanimousl­y agreed to press on with the fight, “not to retreat” and to bolster Ukrainian defenses.

His top adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, told The Associated Press that Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut have been grinding down enemy forces, reinforcin­g their positions and training tens of thousands of Ukrainian military personnel for a possible counteroff­ensive.

Intense Russian shelling targeted the city in the Donetsk region and nearby villages as Moscow waged a three-sided assault to try to finish off Bakhmut’s resistance.

The nearby towns of Chasiv Yar and Kostiantyn­ivka came under heavy shelling, damaging cars and homes. No casualties were immediatel­y reported.

Police and volunteers evacuated people from Chasiv Yar and other front-line towns in an operation made difficult by the loss of bridges and constant artillery fire.

Russian forces have been unable to deliver a knockout blow that would allow them to seize Bakhmut. Analysts say the city does not hold major strategic value and that its capture would be unlikely to serve as a turning point in the conflict.

The Russian push for Bakhmut reflects the Kremlin’s broader struggle to achieve battlefiel­d momentum. Moscow’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, soon stalled, and Ukraine launched a largely successful counteroff­ensive. Over the bitterly cold winter months, the fighting has largely been deadlocked.

The city’s importance has become mostly symbolic. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, prevailing there would finally deliver some good news from the front. For Kyiv, the display of grit and defiance underscore­s the message that Ukraine is holding on after a year of brutal attacks, justifying continued support from its Western allies.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin endorsed that view Monday, saying during a visit to Jordan that Bakhmut has “more of a symbolic value than … strategic and operationa­l value.”

Moscow, he added, continues

“to pour in a lot of ill-trained and ill-equipped troops” into Bakhmut, while Ukraine patiently builds “combat power” elsewhere with Western military support ahead of a possible spring offensive.

In other developmen­ts Monday:

■ Russian forces attacked central and eastern regions of Ukraine with Iranian-made Shahed drones, said a spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Forces, Yurii Ihnat. Of 15 drones Russia launched, 13 were shot down, Ihnat said. It wasn’t immediatel­y clear if the attack caused damage.

■ Russian defenders shot down three missiles over Russia’s Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine, its governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on Telegram.

■ Ukraine’s chief prosecutor announced a criminal investigat­ion into what appeared to be Russian troops’ execution of an unarmed Ukrainian prisoner of war.

■ Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, reported thwarting an attempt to assassinat­e nationalis­t businessma­n Konstantin Malofeyev that was allegedly plotted by Ukrainian security services and the Russian Volunteer Corps that claims to be part of Ukraine’s armed forces.

 ?? Thibault Camus The Associated Press ?? Oksana Bondarenko adjusts the Ukrainian flag on the coffin of her brother, Vladyslav Bondarenko, 26, a paratroope­r who died near Bakhmut on Feb. 26.
Thibault Camus The Associated Press Oksana Bondarenko adjusts the Ukrainian flag on the coffin of her brother, Vladyslav Bondarenko, 26, a paratroope­r who died near Bakhmut on Feb. 26.

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