Ukraine’s ground forces commander said on Monday his troops were continuing to repel heavy Russian attacks on the eastern city of Bakhmut and that defending it was a “military necessity”, following a wave of air strikes in the region.
“The most intense phase of the battle for Bakhmut continues,” said Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi. “The situation is constantly difficult. The enemy suffers significant losses in human resources, weapons and military equipment but continues to conduct offensive actions.”
During a visit to the eastern front line, he acted to solve “problematic issues that prevent effective execution of combat tasks” and took “operational decisions aimed at strengthening our capabilities to deter and inflict damage on the enemy”, according to Ukraine’s military.
The comments suggest that Ukrainian forces will continue to fight in Bakhmut and its surrounds despite a heavy death toll, as officials said on Sunday that Russia had turned nearby Avdiika into a “place from post-apocalyptic movies”.
Around 2,000 civilians are left in Avdiivka, down from a pre-war population of around 30,000.
The Institute for the Study of War said on Monday that the latest barrage of attacks in the Donetsk region showed Russian President Valdimir Putin was “committed to victory in a protracted war”.
It said the president appeared to reject the idea that current military realities required a negotiated resolution or compromise settlement and that several successful Ukrainian counter-offensives were “almost certainly necessary”.
However, the think-tank warned that Russia would gain no operational advantage regardless of whether they are able to drive Ukrainian troops out of Avdiivka or Bakhmut. Russia’s attacks “have now become not merely pointless, but actually harmful to Russian preparations for the next phase of this war, which will revolve around the upcoming Ukrainian counter-offensive”, it said.
The seven-month battle for Bakhmut has been the longest fight in the war yet. Russian forces have closed in on all sides, having reportedly deployed both traditional soldiers and fighters from the mercenary Wagner group.
Russian troops have been making gradual gains in the eastern region and the Ukrainian military fears that the small city Avdiivka could become a “second Bakhmut”.
“I am sad to say this, but Avdiivka is becoming more and more like a place from post-apocalyptic movies,” the city’s military administration head Vitaliy Barabash said on the Telegram messaging app.
The evacuation of the utility workers that were still left in the city has begun and mobile reception will be turned off soon, he said, “because there are informers of the Russian occupiers in the city.”
Mr Barabash urged civilians to evacuate the region. “You have to go, you have to pack your things, especially with your children.”
Two high-rise buildings in Avdiivka were targeted on Sunday, which is just 10 km from the northern outskirts of the city of Donetsk, which has been under Moscow’s control since 2014. One person was injured amid airstrikes over the weekend.
Earlier this month, European officials said that 20,000 to 30,000 Russian troops had been killed or injured since last summer.