Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has doubled down on defending Bakhmut despite signs of withdrawal from the eastern city which is almost surrounded by Russian troops.
In an overnight video address, Zelensky said he had met with his top generals, who “unanimously” advised “don’t retreat but strengthen”.
It is unusual for a president to refer to the advice of his top commanders. His intervention comes amid reports of concern among Western officials, analysts and some Ukrainian troops about the merits of holding on to the city regardless of the cost. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Monday that the retreat from Bakhmut should not be seen as an “operational or strategic setback”.
Zelensky said he had ordered General Valery Zaluzny, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, to “find suitable forces to help the people in Bakhmut”.
Zelensky said, “There is no part of Ukraine that one can say can be abandoned.”
The battle for the city, known among Ukrainian troops as “Fort Bakhmut”, has lasted nearly nine months, the longest since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. One of the toughest hurdles.
The heavily bombed city has been attacked by Russian troops from its east, north and south.
“Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut continues to let forces of both sides down,” the UK Defense Ministry said on Twitter on Tuesday.
According to Interfax, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that taking control of Bakhmut would allow his troops to “continue the offensive” into Ukrainian defences. He estimated that Ukrainian casualties rose by 40 percent to 11,000 in February.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Tuesday that 1,060 Russian soldiers had been killed on all front lines since February 24. The claims could not be independently verified.
Kiev claimed on Monday that it had identified one of its soldiers from a video circulated on social media that showed Russian soldiers executing him as a prisoner of war. The footage shows an unarmed soldier smoking a cigarette after being shot after chanting “Victory to Ukraine”.
An army spokesman told the Financial Times that relatives had confirmed his identity, but an autopsy was not possible at the moment because his body was in Russian-held territory.
The General Staff in a statement on Tuesday identified him as Timofey Shadura of the 30th Mechanized Brigade. In a separate statement, the brigade said Shadura had gone missing near Bakhmut last month.
The General Staff said, “The shooting of an unarmed prisoner is a reprehensible and brazen disregard for the norms of international humanitarian law and the customs of war.”
Capturing Bakhmut, one of several key towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region not under Russian occupation, would give Putin his first major battlefield victory since his forces captured the nearby towns of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk early last summer. Was.
Ukraine launched a counter-offensive twice last autumn to recapture areas in the northeast as well as the southern city of Kherson. But Russian forces still hold the eastern and southern regions, which account for only 20 percent of its territory.
Austin’s comments about Ukraine’s retreat echoed suggestions from some Western officials and experts that Kiev should pull out to save its forces ahead of a planned counter-offensive of its own. The push is expected after the arrival this spring of fresh Western weapons, including modern tanks from NATO countries.
But Ukrainian officials and experts have said that their continued defense of Bakhmut is undermining Russia’s firepower. They say that Russian losses in the war far exceed those of Ukraine. Zelensky’s national security chief, Oleksiy Danilov, said on Friday that casualties were “one to seven on our side”.
“We are destroying the occupier everywhere – wherever it has consequences for Ukraine,” Zelensky said in his video address. “Bakhmut has bowed and with one of the greatest results during this war.”