A senior Ukrainian military commander said on Monday that Russia is using “scorched earth” tactics as it fights to take control of Bakhmut, the eastern Ukrainian city reduced to rubble after months of fierce fighting for which Kiev and Moscow paid a heavy price in lives. and equipment.
“The fighting on both sides is tough,” said Col. Gen. Oleksandr Sersky, commander of the Ukrainian ground forces that were overseeing the Bakhmut campaign, on a visit to the troops. He said Russia was “destroying buildings and military sites with air strikes and artillery fire”.
Col. Gen. Sersky described the situation in Bakhmut, where Ukrainian forces have been largely pushed out of the city center and rely on precarious supply routes to deliver weapons and personnel, as “challenging but under control”.
Russian forces have advanced steadily in recent weeks in house-to-house fighting accompanied by heavy artillery and mortars, trying to achieve their first major military victory in months.
On Monday morning, Russian state media released a video showing Denis Pushlin, the Russian leader of the occupied parts of the Donetsk region – of which Bakhmut is a part – standing in the city’s central square next to administrative buildings that have been reduced to rubble.
“Our units continued to liberate Russian lands,” Mr. Pushlin said, blaming Ukraine for the city’s destruction and saying Russia was evacuating civilians from the area.
Mr. Pushlin said that Russian forces were in control of about 75% of Bakhmut but fierce battles were still taking place in the western part of the city.
Meanwhile, Kiev and Moscow confirmed that they had completed another prisoner exchange, with the Russian Defense Ministry saying that 106 Russian soldiers had been returned by Kiev and Ukraine announcing that 100 of its fighters had returned.
“Our men are at home,” wrote the chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Andriy Yermak, via Telegram. “And we will bring everyone back.”
The fighting for Bakhmut lasted 10 months. Western and Ukrainian officials say Russia lost tens of thousands of men in its occupation of the city as it poured waves of manpower into Ukrainian positions.
Ukraine sought to downplay its territorial losses at Bakhmut. Some Western officials have suggested that the city has little strategic importance and that Ukraine should have withdrawn weeks ago to save lives. But Mr. Zelensky defended the decision to keep fighting for it, citing military commanders including Colonel Cirsky, who spoke out. In support of the defense of the city.
Ukraine said the rationale for continuing to fight for Bakhmut was that the battle for the city inflicted heavy losses on Russia, far exceeding those on the Ukrainian side.
Ukraine has exhausted the combat potential of the Wagner paramilitary group which has been leading the Russian offensive to capture the city using convicts recruited from Russian prisons, Col. Gen. Sersky said on Monday, adding that this is forcing Moscow to deploy more elite units. which are in short supply.
Capturing all of Donetsk has become a priority for Russia since it withdrew from the Kiev region last spring and narrowed the scope of its military ambitions in eastern and southern Ukraine. Southwest of Bakhmut, Russian forces intensified their offensive against the cities of Avdiivka and Marinka, wiping out entire residential areas.
On Monday, the British Ministry of Defense said that Russia had intensified its armored attacks on Marinka over the past week, in an attempt to control the H15 highway leading to the city of Donetsk, the regional capital.
Meanwhile, Ukraine continued to crack down on alleged collaborators sending information to the Russian military from areas under Kiev’s control.
Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency, SBU, said on Monday it had detained a resident of the Mykolaiv region in the south, and said it was sending photos and data on the locations of Ukrainian military units defending the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, the country’s second. The largest nuclear facility.
It said the man, whom it did not name, was recruited by Russia after he posted pro-Kremlin posts on his social media profiles, and received an advance payment of 2,000 hryvnia, the equivalent of $54, from his Russian handlers to supply it to them. Sensitive information.
Georgy Kanchev contributed to this article.
Write to Matthew Luxmoore at [email protected]
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