Casualties mount as Ukrainian troops face relentless Russian assault on Bakhmut

The chief of Ukrainian ground forces says all Russian attempts to capture the city are being repelled

Ukrainian troops on the front line near Bakhmut in Donetsk region, the scene of heavy fighting. AFP
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Ukrainian forces say they are facing relentless Russian attacks on Bakhmut, in the eastern Donetsk region, with both sides reporting mounting enemy casualties.

Ukrainian troops are repelling all Russian attempts to capture the town, the commander of Ukrainian ground forces said on Monday.

“The situation around Bakhmut remains difficult,” Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Ukraine's Media Military Centre Telegram messaging platform.

“All enemy attempts to capture the town are repelled by artillery, tanks and other firepower.”

The Russian Wagner Group of mercenaries “are attacking from several directions trying to break through the defences of our troops and advance to the central districts of the town”, Mr Syrskyi said.

Russia's Defence Ministry said on Sunday its forces had killed more than 220 Ukrainian service members in the past 24 hours in Donetsk, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces had suffered more than 1,100 dead in the past few days fighting along Bakhmut.

Russian forces also sustained 1,500 “sanitary losses” — soldiers wounded badly enough to keep them out of further action, Mr Zelenskyy said.

Neither side gave details of their own casualties, Reuters reported.

Ukraine troops control west of Bakhmut, while Russia's Wagner mercenary group controls most of the eastern part, with the Bakhmutka River that flows through the town marking the front line, British intelligence said at the weekend.

Russian forces are pressing on with their offensive operations in the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Maryinka and Shakhtar areas, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine's military said on Monday.

Ukrainian forces had repelled 102 attacks near four settlements in the Bakhmut area, where at least 11 settlements came under fire over the past day, the military said.

“The enemy does not stop trying to capture the town of Bakhmut,” it said.

'Very tough'

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Sunday the situation in Bakhmut was “tough, very tough”.

“The closer we are to the centre of the city, the harder the fighting … The Ukrainians throw in endless reserves. But we are advancing and we will be advancing,” Mr Prigozhin said in comments released by his press service.

He also said Russian Army personnel helped his troops with ammunition.

While Bakhmut's strategic value is debatable, Russia sees capturing it as a step towards a major aim of the war — now in its second year — of seizing all of Ukraine's Donbas industrial region. Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the Donbas.

Ukraine has decided to stay and fight on in Bakhmut, after initial signs it was planning to withdraw, to grind down Russia's best units ahead of a spring offensive.

Analysts expect a Ukrainian counter-offensive to begin in earnest over April-May as the weather improves and more military aid arrives, including heavy Leopard and Challenger tanks.

Western tanks will significantly change war tactics, Leonid Khoda, a decorated Ukrainian tank brigade commander, said.

“Everyone is waiting, 1st Tank Brigade is waiting too. Not long ago we sent personnel to learn to operate (Leopard) 2A6,” said Khoda, who commands the 1st Siversk Tank Brigade which is fighting in the south of Donetsk.

Elsewhere, Russia's air defence shot down four missiles over its Belgorod region bordering Ukraine on Monday, its governor of said. One person was injured.

Vyacheslav Gladkov did not say who was behind the attacks but in the past he has accused Ukrainian troops on the other side of the border of similar attacks.

The Russia-controlled Ukrainian city of Donetsk was shelled four times on Sunday, with residential areas and power lines hit and Russian-installed officials blaming Ukraine.

Updated: March 13, 2023, 3:21 PM