“Fierce battles” raged in central Bakhmut as Ukrainian forces desperately fought on the west side of the Donetsk region city against relentless breakthrough attempts by Russian mercenary fighters and as many observers said they expect Kyiv’s forces to mount a counteroffensive in the coming weeks.
“The Wagner assault groups are attacking from several directions and trying to break through the defenses of our forces and advance into the city center,” General Oleksandr Syrskiy, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said on March 13, referring to the mercenary group that has led the Russian assault on the city over the past several months.
READ MORE about the battle for Bakhmut
“In fierce battles, our defenders are inflicting significant losses on the enemy,” the Ukrainian military command said earlier in a statement.
Meanwhile, Wagner chief Yevgheny Prigozhin, who posted a video of himself near the Bakhmut city center, has acknowledged his fighters are facing a major struggle to capture the city — which U.S. and other Western leaders say holds little strategic value but indicates the Kremlin’s desperate need for a symbolic victory.
“The situation in Bakhmut is difficult, very difficult. The enemy is battling for every meter,” Prigozhin said in a social media posting from the nearly destroyed city that had a pre-war population of 70,000.
“The closer we are to the city center, the more difficult the battles get and the more artillery there is,” said Prigozhin, who added that Ukraine is throwing “endless reserves” into the battle.
In comments to Ukrainian media, local officials in Bakhmut said that as of March 13 there were still an estimated 4,000 people in the city, including about three dozen children.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its daily update on March 13 that “over the past day, units of our Defense Forces repelled 102 enemy attacks…. The enemy has not paused its attempts to capture the city of Bakhmut.”
It added that Russian troops are continuing their relentless assault despite “significant losses.”
The fight for Bakhmut has been one of the most sustained battles of Russia’s year-old invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian General Staff reported that heavy fighting is also under way in several other areas around Bakhmut — Lyman, Avdiyivka, Mariynka, and Shakhtarsk.
Neither side’s accounts could be independently verified, but military analysts say both Russia and Ukraine have sustained a high rate of casualties.
Experts and analysts — including those from the Russian side — have said they expect Kyiv to launch a counteroffensive next month or in May once weather conditions improve and as promised heavy weaponry, including battle tanks, arrives from allies. Prigozhin himself has raised the possibility in public pleas to Russian leaders for more ammunition.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on March 13 that Prigozhin, who has been using convicts to replenish the losses suffered by Wagner in the war, has likely lost access to recruiting in prisons due to an ongoing conflict with Russia’s Defense Ministry.
“If the ban endures, Prigozhin will likely be forced to reduce the scale or intensity of Wagner operations in Ukraine,” the British intelligence report said.
The report said that, according to British estimates, “about half of the prisoners Wagner has already deployed in Ukraine have likely become casualties.”
On March 12, the Ukrainian military said two people had been killed and three more injured when Russian forces shelled a civilian target in Kherson.
Kherson is the administrative capital of one of the four Ukrainian regions — along with Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya, where Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is located — that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed in October, a move rejected by most of the rest of the world.
Reported by RFE/RL