Casualties in Donetsk mount as Russia, Ukraine fight for Bakhmut
By Nick Starkov
KYIV (Reuters) -Both Ukraine and Russia on Sunday reported high casualties in Ukraine's Donetsk region with the slow, long-lasting and bloody fight for the small town of Bakhmut continuing as Moscow presses to advance into its neighbour's territory.
Ukraine forces control west of the now ruined and nearly deserted Bakhmut, while Russia's Wagner Group controls most of the eastern part, British intelligence said, with the Bakhmutka River that bisects the town marking the front line.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces had suffered more than 1,100 dead in the past few days fighting along the Bakhmut section of the frontline.
"In less than a week, starting from the 6th March, we managed to kill more than 1,100 enemy soldiers in the Bakhmut sector alone, Russia's irreversible loss, right there, near Bakhmut," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
He said Russian forces had also sustained 1,500 "sanitary losses" - soldiers wounded badly enough to keep them out of further action.
Russia's defence ministry said its forces were conducting further military operations in the Donetsk region which, together with adjacent Luhansk region, makes up Donbas.
The ministry said Russian forces had killed more than 220 Ukrainian service members over the past 24 hours.
"In the Donetsk direction... more than 220 Ukrainian servicemen, an infantry fighting vehicle, three armoured fighting vehicles, seven vehicles, as well as a D-30 howitzer were destroyed during the day," the ministry said.
Both sides have admitted to suffering and inflicting significant losses in Bakhmut over the past few months, while the exact number of casualties is difficult to independently verify.
Ukraine has repeatedly said that the defence of Bakhmut would continue, with top commanders saying over the weekend the fight there allows to gain time needed to prepare a broader Kyiv's counterattack soon.
"On Bakhmut: the situation there is difficult, very difficult, the enemy is fighting for every metre," Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries said on Sunday in a voice recording published on the Telegram channel of his press service.
"And the closer to the city centre, the fiercer the fighting."
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would punch a hole in Ukrainian defences and be a step toward seizing all of the Donbas industrial region, a major target.
But fighting and heavy shelling has been also ongoing along the entire frontline in Ukraine's east and south, including other parts of Donetsk.
According to Russia-installed officials in the Russia-controlled city of Donetsk, the city was shelled four times by Ukraine forces on Sunday, affecting residential areas and damaging power lines.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the report. Both sides have repeatedly said they are not targeting civilians in their attacks.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed as well as soldiers on both sides. Russia has bombarded Ukrainian cities and set millions of civilians to flight in what Kyiv and the West call an unprovoked war of conquest.
Svetlana Boiko, 66, was wounded in the Donetsk shelling when her apartment was struck. She told Reuters that shelling "used to fly over without ever hitting us".
"This is the first time since 2014 that it has hit us. So, this is what 2023 looks like," Boiko said.
In September, Russia claimed it had annexed the Donetsk region and three other Ukrainian regions, including parts that have been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Ron Popeski and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Diane Craft)