'It's hard to defend,' says Ukrainian soldier as the battle for Bakhmut intensifies

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said the fighting in Bakhmut had “escalated,” as Russian forces attempt to break through Ukrainian defence lines that have largely held firm for the past six months.

First-hand accounts of conditions in the fields and dugouts around Bakhmut suggest that the Ukrainian fightback is fraught with problems.

"It's hard to defend the Bakhmut stronghold. Because a lot of enemy forces are concentrated here. And also the weather is not allowing us to use vehicles. It's too muddy," explained Mikhail, a Ukrainian paratrooper of the 80 Air Assault brigade.

Bakhmut has become a “killing zone” that is likely challenging for Russia’s Wagner mercenary forces trying to continue their assault westward, the UK Ministry of Defence said on Saturday.

Its latest intelligence update said that over the past four days, Wagner group forces had taken control of most of eastern Bakhmut, while Ukrainian forces held its west and had demolished key bridges over the Bakhmutka River, “which now marks the frontline”.

Just west of Bakhmut, shelling and missile strikes hit the Ukrainian-held city of Kostiantynivka. The regional prosecutor's office said eight people were injured and more than a dozen homes were damaged or destroyed in the attacks.

At least four people were reportedly injured and taken to a local hospital. Ukrainian police said Russian forces attacked the town with S-300 missiles and cluster munitions.

Thursday's pre-dawn Russian onslaught was the largest such attack in three weeks with more than 80 Russian missiles and exploding drones.

The barrage, which also damaged residential buildings, killed six people and left hundreds of thousands without heat or running water.

The bombardments on energy infrastructure that gathered pace last autumn have become less frequent.

“The interval between waves of strikes is probably growing because Russia now needs to stockpile a critical mass of newly produced missiles directly from industry,” the UK Ministry of Defence said in an assessment on Friday.