Fight for Bakhmut continues as Kyiv says it is resisting Russian attacks

Situation in city is ‘hell’ but frontline stabilised and Russian forces still on outskirts, says Ukrainian commander

Kyiv said its army was thwarting relentless attacks by Moscow’s troops on Bakhmut, as the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group warned that defeat for his fighters outside the ruined city would cause the collapse of the Kremlin’s forces in eastern Ukraine.

More deadly shelling hit Ukrainian towns as the death toll from a Russian missile strike on the city of Zaporizhzhia climbed to 13, and Ukrainian pilots underwent skills tests in the United States amid requests from Kyiv for western fighter jets.

“The enemy is concentrating its main efforts on conducting offensive operations in the Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Shakhtarsk directions. Over the last day, our defenders repelled more than 130 enemy attacks in these areas,” Ukraine’s military said on Sunday, listing towns in the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv.

“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy keeps trying to surround the city … Over the past day, our defenders have repelled numerous attacks,” the military added.


Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s eastern command, said Bakhmut was Russia’s “priority target, but our commanders and servicemen are doing everything to defend this settlement and also inflict maximum losses on the enemy”.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, said the situation in Bakhmut – a regional road junction – was “extremely difficult and complicated, but under control.”

At least two Ukrainian military drone units say they have been ordered to leave Bakhmut in recent days, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner group, claimed on Friday that Kyiv’s forces in the city would soon be surrounded.

At the same time, he has accused Russia’s defence ministry of trying to undermine Wagner – which has swollen its ranks with thousands of convicts recruited from jails – by failing to acknowledge its battlefield successes and starving it of ammunition.

“If Wagner rolls back now, then … the front will collapse all the way to the Russian borders and perhaps further. In general, the situation will be unpleasant for all armed formations defending Russia’s interests,” Mr Prigozhin said.

“Wagner is the cement … that stabilises [the Russian line] and prevents the enemy from breaking through. If we withdraw, we will go down in history as the people who played the main role in losing the war,” he added in a video posted on social media.

Ukraine said workers in Zaporizhzhia had found the bodies of more civilians in the rubble of an apartment building that was hit by a Russian missile on Thursday, taking the total number of those killed to 13, including one child.

One woman and two children were killed in Russian shelling of the Kherson region in southeastern Ukraine on Sunday. Shelling killed one man in the province on Saturday and another man in the eastern town of Kupiansk, where local authorities have ordered families with children and people with limited mobility to evacuate to safer parts of the Kharkiv region.

The US unveiled its latest $400 million (€376 million) package of military aid for Kyiv on Friday, which includes more artillery ammunition amid a grinding war of attrition in eastern Ukraine one year into Russia’s all-out invasion of its pro-western neighbour.

Some Nato states have agreed to supply tanks to Ukraine but have rejected its repeated requests for modern warplanes, which Kyiv says it needs to expel Russian troops and end a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

However, US officials revealed that two Ukrainian pilots were now undergoing assessment in Arizona, on what they described as a programme to help Kyiv improve how it uses its current fleet of aircraft.

“It’s about training them on their own planes,” an official told Reuters, “not about F-16s.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe