Days before the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion, the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was subjected to intense artillery fire on Monday, according to the head of NATO.
According to Ukrainian military sources, the country’s defenders, who have already resisted for months, were preparing for fresh ground assaults.
According to a deputy battalion commander, positions in Bakhmut have been strengthened, and only those in military roles are permitted entry. He warned that any citizens who still wanted to leave the city would have to risk being shot at.
Bakhmut is a prime objective for Russian President Vladimir Putin and its capture would give Russia a new foothold in the Donetsk region and a rare victory after several months of setbacks. Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, now partially occupied by Russia which wants full control.
“… The reality is we have seen the start (of a Russian offensive) already because we see now what Russia does now – President Putin does now – is to send thousands and thousands more troops, accepting a very high rate of casualty,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
The Russian assault on Bakhmut has been spearheaded by mercenaries of the Wagner group, who have made small but steady gains. The renewed Russian bombardments made the situation there even more acute.
“The city, the city’s suburbs, the entire perimeter, and essentially the entire Bakhmut direction and Kostyantynivka are under crazy, chaotic shelling,” said Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Svoboda battalion.
Nazarenko said that, although no fighting was taking place in the city centre, the defenders were prepared to meet any assault.
“The city is a fortress, every position and every street there, almost every building, is a fortress,” he said.
The Russian defence ministry said its troops had pushed forward a few kilometres along the frontlines, without specifying where.
The Ukrainian military reported Russian shelling all along the frontline and said 16 settlements had been bombarded near Bakhmut. It said that over the past day, its forces had repelled attacks near Bakhmut as well as assaults in the Kharkiv, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions.