Russia Escalates Attack on Bakhmut Area as Kyiv Warns New Offensive Is Imminent
Russia escalated strikes on a town near the contested city of Bakhmut on Saturday as it sought to cut off Ukraine’s supply routes and encircle the city, while Ukrainian officials warned of a major new Russian offensive in coming weeks.
Inside Bakhmut, gunshots echoed from the east side of the river that bisects the city. Waves of Russian troops were pushing in from the east, and two pontoon bridges across the river hit this week were passable only by foot, Ukrainian soldiers said. Ukrainians said they were fighting for each block, but were outnumbered and outgunned, and the Russians were slowly taking territory in the city.
“If we hold a building and then they level it, of course we have to step back to another building,” said one private from the 93rd brigade who was resupplying troops around the city. He said the Ukrainians were outnumbered 10-to-1 in some parts of the city. Both sides were firing less than they had been months earlier, he said, showing a general dwindling of artillery supplies after six months of grinding battle for the city; pickup trucks were being used to evacuate injured soldiers.
“It’s really bad,” he said. “Really hard.”
The sound of gunfire also came from the southwest, where the Russians were pushing to take the town of Ivanivske in an effort to surround Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldiers said.
“Around a month ago, they changed their strategy—they realized we wouldn’t let them go through the city, so they started trying to go around,” said a national guard lieutenant, speaking from a basement where a dozen troops were eating soup, chicken and bread. The streets were all but abandoned just west of the river on Saturday. Cars full of soldiers sometimes sped by.
The lieutenant said Russians were pushing from east, south and north. For now, he said, his unit was holding their territory on the eastern front. But he added, “We have a shortage of people…We have a shortage of hard weapons—grenade launchers, artillery.”
To the west of Bakhmut, the town of Chasiv Yar, which lies on a crucial road into Bakhmut from other parts of the Donetsk region, has become a target for Russian strikes. The town’s elevated location provides Ukrainian troops with a point from which to target Russian defensive lines in Bakhmut with artillery.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said Russian attacks using multiple launch rocket systems had killed two people and wounded five, with a school, a residential housing block and private homes hit.
“The Russians are mercilessly scorching our earth with fire,” he said in a social-media post on Saturday. “And they will be mercilessly punished—every occupier will meet death on our land.”
The attacks come as Russia seeks to push Ukrainian forces out of Bakhmut after months of grinding battles and prevent them from bringing reinforcements into the city, which is currently the main target of Russia’s campaign after more than 11 months of war.
Trenches have been dug around Chasiv Yar, and Ukrainian soldiers fighting in and around Bakhmut said the town would serve as an obvious line of defense if they pull out of Bakhmut in coming weeks. Soldiers on Saturday were digging trenches beside the road connecting Chasiv Yar to Bakhmut.
Western and Ukrainian officials say Russia is laying the groundwork for what could be a major new offensive in the spring, focusing on the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has from the war’s outset pledged to bring fully under Russian control.
“The Kremlin is likely preparing to conduct a decisive strategic action—most likely in Luhansk Oblast—in the next six months intended to regain the initiative and end Ukraine’s current string of operational successes,” Washington-based think tank Institute for the Study of War said in its daily analysis of the war on Friday.
Plans for a new offensive have been made possible by a mass mobilization that Mr. Putin announced last September, which has brought some 300,000 new troops, many of them convicts, into the ranks of Russia’s military and the Wagner Group paramilitary unit that is spearheading many of the key offensives in east Ukraine.
Mykhailo Zabrodsky, a lawmaker and former commander of Ukraine’s air-assault forces who is close to the war planning process, said Moscow has reverted back to a World War II practice of throwing waves of soldiers at the enemy’s defensive lines instead of safeguarding lives with probing attacks led by armored vehicles and other modern arms.
“They’ve gone back to using Stalin-era methods,” he said in an interview. He described the situation in Bakhmut as “difficult but stable” and said there are no plans for an imminent withdrawal.
The mobilization has allowed Russia to bolster the front lines with thousands of new service members, and Ukrainian defenders fighting in Bakhmut said the manpower difference is being felt.
“The Russians have a lot more troops, maybe three times more,” said a soldier in Chasiv Yar. “And we are really limited with supplies.”
“They’re like zombies. They’re coming from all sides—east, north and south,” said a private in the border guards serving in Bakhmut. He said some units had been pulling back from east of the river, with basements that had been full of soldiers a week ago now empty.
Russia is seeking a breakthrough in Bakhmut ahead of the arrival of tanks pledged by Kyiv’s Western backers, which Ukraine says will help it slice through Russian lines and take back more territory. The U.S. and European allies promised dozens of armored vehicles to Ukraine, including main battle tanks more powerful than the older models fielded by Russia.
Ukraine’s ambassador to France, Vadym Omelchenko, said on Friday that Ukraine had been promised a total of 321 ranks from Western allies. “The conditions of delivery vary in each case, and we need this help as soon as possible,” he told French television.
Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Russia wants to launch its major new offensive to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the war, on Feb. 24.
“Right now they are preparing for maximum activation” and readying forces for a significant advance focused on taking the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, he said in a Ukrainian radio interview.