Ukraine and Russia have reported heavy casualties as the slow, grinding fight for control of the salt-mining town of Bakhmut continues in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine controls the area to the west of the now ruined and nearly deserted Bakhmut, while Russia’s Wagner Group controls most of the eastern part, according to British intelligence, with the Bakhmutka River that winds through the town marking the front line.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than 1,100 Russian soldiers had been killed in the past few days fighting along the Bakhmut section of the front line.
“In less than a week, starting from the 6th March, we managed to kill more than 1,100 enemy soldiers in the Bakhmut sector alone, Russia’s irreversible loss, right there, near Bakhmut,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.
He added that some 1,500 Russian soldiers had been so badly wounded they were unable to continue fighting.
Russia’s defence ministry said its forces were conducting further military operations in the eastern Donetsk region which, together with neighbouring Luhansk, makes up the industrial Donbas.
The ministry said Russian forces had killed more than 220 Ukrainian service members over the past 24 hours.
“In the Donetsk direction … more than 220 Ukrainian servicemen, an infantry fighting vehicle, three armoured fighting vehicles, seven vehicles, as well as a D-30 howitzer were destroyed during the day,” the ministry said.
Both sides have admitted to suffering and inflicting significant losses in Bakhmut over the past few months, although the exact number of casualties is difficult to independently verify.
Ukraine has repeatedly said that the defence of Bakhmut would continue, with top commanders saying over the weekend the fight there allows them to gain time needed to prepare a broader counterattack.
“On Bakhmut: the situation there is difficult, very difficult, the enemy is fighting for every metre,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries said on Sunday in a voice recording published on the Telegram channel of his press service.
“And the closer to the city centre, the fiercer the fighting.”
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would shake Ukrainian defences and be a step towards seizing all of the Donbas, a major target.
But fighting and heavy shelling have been also ongoing along the entire front line in Ukraine’s east and south, including other parts of Donetsk.
According to Russia-installed officials in Donetsk, the city was shelled four times by Ukraine forces on Sunday, affecting residential areas and damaging power lines.
The Reuters news agency was unable to independently verify the report. Both sides have repeatedly said they are not targeting civilians in their attacks.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, as well as soldiers on both sides. Russia has bombarded Ukrainian cities and set millions of civilians to flight in what Kyiv and the West call an unprovoked war of conquest.
Svetlana Boiko, 66, was wounded in the Donetsk shelling when her apartment was struck. She told Reuters that shelling “used to fly over without ever hitting us”.
“This is the first time since 2014 that it has hit us. So, this is what 2023 looks like,” Boiko said.
In September, Russia claimed it had annexed the Donetsk region and three other Ukrainian regions, including parts that have been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.