The Mercury News

Ukraine: Forces are holding on in Bakhmut

- By Marc Santora and Natalia Yermak

In a reflection of the precarious position that Ukrainian forces find themselves as they hold onto the battered city of Bakhmut, the commander of Ukraine's ground forces visited soldiers in the city for the second time in less than a week.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky said that Russia is throwing “the most prepared units” into the fight for the city and that he was assessing “problemati­c issues related to increasing the defense capability of our units on the front line.”

Russia launched its offensive to take Bakhmut over the summer, and the fighting has rarely relented. Though Ukraine has put up a stiff defense, in recent weeks Moscow's forces have made gains that put crucial roads in and out of the city in jeopardy.

Even though it has limited strategic value, the small city in eastern Ukraine has taken on enormous symbolic importance to both sides. Thousands of soldiers have died in a protracted artillery battle that has reduced most of the buildings to rubble and forced all but a few thousand of the residents to flee.

There are three main arteries that provide lifelines for thousands of Ukrainian soldiers fighting in and around the city. Russian forces have been working to cut them off and are closing in on the last road, according to soldiers and volunteers who regularly used the roads.

The challenge for Ukrainian commanders at the moment is ensuring that if a withdrawal is necessary they execute it at the right time, minimizing losses after holding out for as long as they could. The gravest risk for Ukrainian forces is that they would be encircled, trapped and killed in large numbers.

A more immediate risk is that Russia will make it impossible to resupply the Ukrainian fighters in and around Bakhmut. On Friday, Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander in Ukraine's national guard, said soldiers defending the critical southern supply line “stand firm.”

If that changes — which it could any day, in either direction — then the calculatio­ns of Ukraine's military and political leaders would also likely shift.

The informatio­n campaign around the battle has also intensifie­d, with Russia portraying the city as on the verge of capture. Ukraine's deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said in a statement Thursday that Russia was “spreading the narratives that are intended to demoralize the Ukrainian military and society.”

 ?? DANIEL BEREHULAK — THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Thursday.
DANIEL BEREHULAK — THE NEW YORK TIMES Ukrainian soldiers fire a self-propelled howitzer near Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Thursday.

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