Ukrainian soldiers have admitted they know they are “being sent to death” when called upon to defend the city of Bakhmut, the site of the hottest fighting on the frontlines. Thousands have already died from both sides in the fight for the small administrative city; thousands more will likely die as Russian shells hit the defenders’ territories “every second” and Ukrainian forces gun down scores of Wagner Group mercenary fighters. Soldiers stationed in and around the city have described the brutality of the fight, with one saying simply: “We are just getting killed”.
One Ukrainian soldier, who described the Russian artillery supplies as seemingly “infinite”, spoke of the certainty he felt when returning to Bakhmut.
Speaking to The Kyiv Independent during a short stay in nearby Kramatorsk, an hour’s drive northwest of Bakhmut, Volodymyr, an infantryman from the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, said: “When they drive us to Bakhmut, I already know I’m being sent to death.”
He added: “(The Russians) keep firing at us, but we don’t have artillery – so we have nothing to attack them back with. I don’t know if I will return or not. We are just getting killed.”
The infantryman said he struggled to eat after fighting in Bakhmut for months and looked shaken as he talked from Kramatorsk.
He said he was haunted by thoughts of his comrades killed in Bakhmut, including a 29-year-old he found lying dead after shrapnel hit the young man’s head.
Volodymyr said: “I knew he was dead, but I just kept wrapping his head (with bandages).”
Another soldier, Valeriy, who said “only a few” of the original 27 members of his platoon left Bakhmut unwounded or even alive after their last stint, told of the volume of weapons available to the Russian soldiers.
“The Russians have so many weapons, and there are so many of them,” Valeriy said. “They are firing at us all the time. Sometimes, you hear an incoming (shell) every second.”
“It’s a pity that probably 90 per cent of our losses are from artillery – or tanks and aviation. And much less (casualties) from shooting battles.”
The Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting mainly Wagner Group mercenary fighters, roughly 80 percent of whom were recruited directly from Russian prisons, including convicted murderers and rapists.
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Western analysts told Express.co.uk that while the city’s strategic value is questionable, it is of significant symbolic worth as Wagner Group financier and chief Yevgeny Prigozhin attempts to show he is the only commander in eastern Ukraine capable of territorial gains.
The British Ministry of Defence, in its latest daily update, denoted the Russian use of Bakhmut as merely the subject of Prigozhin’s “public feud with the Russian Ministry of Defence”.
But that it appears to hold little strategic value has not prevented Prigozhin from waging a devastating war in the area.
So intent is the Wagner Group leader for success, he resorted to “human wave attacks”, involving a dozen men charging on Ukrainian trench positions ostensibly to deplete their ammunition supplies, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of his forces.
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Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, claimed on Sunday that there had been more than 1,100 deaths of Russian forces in the past few days. Western intelligence suggests total Russian losses could be as high as 30,000.
Addressing why Bakhmut’s lack of strategic value has not precluded its defence, the head of Ukraine’s ground forces, General Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a statement on Sunday: “It is necessary to buy time to build reserves and launch a counteroffensive, which is not far off. [Ukrainian soldiers are] inflicting the heaviest possible losses, sparing neither themselves nor the enemy.”
Whether that tactic pays off remains to be seen but the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based military analyst, noted on Wednesday evening that there had been “a markedly decreased number of attacks in and around Bakhmut, particularly over the last few days” as they begin to run out of the munitions they relied upon so heavily.
ISW said the Wagner Group’s offensive in Bakhmut now looks “increasingly nearing culmination” as Ukraine could have an “opportunity to regain the initiative”.