The Dallas Morning News
Kyiv vows to hold on to city
Russia has fought to seize largely symbolic Bakhmut for months
CHASIV YAR, Ukraine — Ukrainian military leaders expressed determination Monday to hold onto 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 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the defenders might retreat from Bakhmut and fall back to nearby positions.
But Zelenskyy’s office said Monday that he chaired a meeting in which top military brass “spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut.”
Zelenskyy’s top adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, told The Associated Press no decision had been made to retreat because of “a consensus among the military about the need to continue defending the city” and grinding down enemy forces “while building new lines of defense.”
By pressing the defense, he said, Ukraine has exhausted Russia’s main combat-ready groups and trained 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 and sparking a fire. 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 that has left barely a house standing.
Russian forces have been unable to deliver a knockout blow that would allow them to seize Bakhmut. Analysts say it does not hold major strategic value and that its capture would be unlikely to serve as a turning point in the conflict.
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 reinforces a message that Ukraine is holding on after a year of brutal attacks, justifying continued support from its Western allies.
U.S. 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.