Putin’s troops are ‘destroying everything’ Ukrainian forces using to defend Bakhmut, says Volodymyr Zelensky
Vladimir Putin’s troops are “destroying everything” Ukrainian forces are using to defend the town of Bakhmut, Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday.
Mercenaries from Putin’s “private army”, the Wagner Group which includes recruits from Russian jails, were said to be suffering heavy losses as they are thrown into fierce battles in an attempt to encircle and capture the town in the eastern Donetsk province.
Ukrainian president Mr Zelensky said: “Bakhmut direction - the situation is getting more and more difficult.
“The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions, to gain a foothold and ensure defence.”
Western officials believe Kyiv will eventually have to order a retreat from Bakhmut, though, that this would not be a strategically significant step.
Russian forces were stepping up their weeks-long drive to encircle the town where the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces described the situation as “extremely tense”.
Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi added: “Despite significant losses, the enemy threw in the most prepared assault units of Wagner, who are trying to break through the defences of our troops and surround the (town).”
Russian troops were seeking to advance in Putin’s spring offensive at multiple locations along the frontline in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, which make up the eastern industrial Donbas region.
But they were making limited progress and more frozen ground thawing and turning to mud was increasingly hampering attacks, with armoured vehicles becoming stuck in boggy fields.
Ukraine’s military said Russia was repeatedly shelling settlements around Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of around 70,000 but now lies in ruins after months of intense trench warfare.
“Over the past day, our soldiers repelled more than 60 enemy attacks,” the military said early on Tuesday, referring to Bakhmut and nearby eastern areas, adding that Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian attacks on the villages of Yadhidne and Berkhivka, on the northern approaches to the town.
This could not be confirmed independently.
Ukrainian and many Russian soldiers were hunkering in muddy trenches as the weather warms.
“Both sides stay in their positions, because as you see, spring means mud. Thus, it is impossible to move forward,” said Mykola, 59, commander of a Ukrainian frontline rocket launcher battery, watching a tablet screen for coordinates to fire.
The spring thaw, known as the “rasputitsa”, has a history of ruining plans by armies to attack across Ukraine and western Russia, turning roads into rivers and fields into quagmires.
Washington has reportedly urged Kyiv to wait for the delivery of battle tanks, with some German-built Leopards having already been delivered and Challenger IIs from Britain due to be sent within weeks, before launching a counter-offensive against Putin’s army which has been dogged by low morale as his invasion, launched more than a year ago, has floundered.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen became the latest senior Western official to visit the Ukrainian capital, promising assistance and more measures to isolate Russia after meetings with Mr Zelensky and other officials.