Kyiv, Ukraine ( Associated Press) – Ukrainian officials say the Russian military has stepped up its offensive against Ukrainian positions around the battered eastern city of Bakhmut, sparking new bouts of death and destruction in a months-long battle for control of the east. The levels have arrived. Within the wider Russian war.
“Everything is completely destroyed, there are almost no lives left,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said of the scene around Bakhmut and the nearby town of Soledar on Monday night.
“All the land near Soledar is covered with the bodies of the occupiers and the marks of the attacks,” the president said. “It is the image of madness.”
The Kremlin, which has suffered several setbacks in the invasion of the neighboring country, which it launched 10-and-a-half months ago, needs any victory. Russia illegally annexed Donetsk and three other Ukrainian provinces in September, but its troops have struggled to advance.
After Ukrainian troops retook the southern city of Gerson last November, fighting intensified around Bakhmut.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that Russia had sent “a large number of assault groups” into the fighting.
“The enemy is actually moving over the bodies of its own soldiers and using artillery, rocket launchers and mortars on a large scale to kill its own soldiers,” he said.
Pavlo Kirilenko, the Kyiv-appointed governor of the Donetsk region, on Tuesday called Russian attacks on Soledar and Bakhmut continuing.
“The Russian military is turning Ukrainian cities into rubble, using all types of weapons in its scorched-earth strategy,” Kirilenko said in televised remarks. “Russia wages a war without rules, which creates suffering and civilian deaths.”
For his part, the Moscow-backed leader in occupied Donetsk said on Tuesday that Russian forces were “very close” to taking Soledar. But the advance came “at a very high cost”, Denis Pushilin told Russian state television.
Controlling the city, Pushilin said, would create “good prospects” for taking Bakhmut, as well as for a subsequent attack on Siversk, a city in the north where Ukrainian fortifications “are also quite significant.”
The British Ministry of Defense agreed with this analysis of the situation. Russian troops and troops from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, have advanced on Soledar in recent days and “probably control the majority of the settlement”, the ministry said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Soledar, 10 kilometers (6 mi) north of Bakhmut, is Moscow’s immediate military target and part of a strategy to encircle Bakhmut.
However, the British report stated that “Ukrainian forces maintain stable defensive lines in depth and control of supply routes”.
British intelligence reports state that a unique aspect of the fighting near Bakhmut is that some of the fighting is taking place near disused salt mine tunnels, which extend for some 200 kilometers (120 mi).
“Perhaps both sides are concerned that (the tunnels) could be used to infiltrate behind their side of the border,” he said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whose actions have been widely criticized in some circles in Russia but who retains the confidence of President Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday that the army would move to Ukraine to improve its combat training. Will use experience.
Shoigu said military communications and control systems would be upgraded with artificial intelligence, and troops would receive better tactical equipment and material.
The Kremlin argues that it is fighting not only Ukraine, but also its NATO allies. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that NATO members “have become a party to the conflict in Ukraine, smuggling weapons, technology and intelligence.”
Several cities along the front in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk have seen heavy fighting in recent months.
The two provinces make up the Donbass, a vast industrial region bordering Russia that Putin had identified as a priority at the start of the war. Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces in the region since 2014.
The harsh Russian Eastern Offensive captured nearly all of Luhansk during the summer. Donetsk has resisted, so the Russian military has increased its manpower and resources around Bakhmut.
The capture of Bakhmut would cut Ukrainian supply routes and open a way for Russian forces to advance towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the two major Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.
Like Mariupol and other disputed towns, Bakhmut has suffered a protracted siege and spent weeks without water or electricity, even before Moscow launched a massive assault on public infrastructure across Ukraine.
The region’s governor, Kirilenko, estimated more than two months ago that 90% of Bakhmut’s 70,000 pre-war population had fled since Moscow focused on seizing all of Donbass.
The Ukrainian presidential office reported at least four civilians killed and another 30 injured in Russian attacks between Monday and Tuesday.
According to Vitaly Kim, the governor of the southern Mykolaiv region, the Russian military shelled the Ochakiv port and surrounding area on Monday night and again in the early hours of Tuesday. He said 15 people were injured in Monday’s attacks, including a two-year-old child.