Zelenskiy: We will not retreat, we will continue the fighting in Bakhmut
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said publicly that Ukrainian troops are ready to continue fighting in Bakhmut, after it initially appeared that they would withdraw.
In recent weeks, Moscow has sent thousands of troops to try to take control of the city in eastern Ukraine and achieve, after more than half a year, a victory on the ground.
Ukrainian forces have dug trenches further west and in recent days appeared to be preparing to withdraw.
But during his nightly speech on Monday, Mr Zelenskiy said Kiev had decided not only to have Ukrainian troops stay for the fighting but also to fortify the city, apparently convinced that Russian losses in trying to take the city, will be greater than the losses of Ukraine.
“The command unanimously supported the decision not to withdraw,” said Mr. Zelensky. “There were no other options. I told the commander to find the right forces to send to help our soldiers in Bakhmut”, said the Ukrainian President.
Russia says that taking control of Bakhmut would be an important step in expanding its control over this territory, in the industrial region of Donbas, and would mark a major victory on the ground.
“The city is an important center for the defense of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas. Taking it under its control will allow further attacks to be carried out in the defensive areas of Ukraine,” said Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu.
Western experts say the destroyed city is of little significance, but Russia’s attack may be aimed at achieving a symbolic victory at the end of the winter offensive, during which thousands of reservists and fighters of the Wagner paramilitary group have been recruited.
The Ukrainian military command said in a report on Tuesday that 1,6000 Russians had been killed in the past 24 hours. Data on casualties among Russian forces cannot be confirmed and the parties do not regularly provide data on their losses. But in the past, similar reports issued by Ukraine on Russian losses have coincided with major failures of Russian attacks.
City fighting favors defensive forces. Some Ukrainian officials have stated in recent days that the ratio between losses among the ranks of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers was 7 to 1.
For the Russian side, the battle in the city of Bakhmut has highlighted the rift between the army forces and the fighters of the Wagner paramilitary group. Their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, through several videos, has accused the officials of not supplying weapons to his people.
Russia’s Defense Ministry denies it stopped supplying weapons to the Wagner Group, but has not responded to Mr Prigozhin’s latest accusations. So far, the Kremlin has been silent on these clashes.