(Kyiv) Ukrainian and Russian forces said on Monday they were engaged in “severe fighting” for the center of Bakhmout, in eastern Ukraine, which Moscow has been trying to seize since the summer at the cost of heavy losses.
This city has become a symbol of Ukraine’s fierce resistance to the Kremlin, and Kyiv hopes to exhaust the enemy forces there to be in a position to launch a vast counter-offensive.
“Assault detachments [du groupe paramilitaire russe] Wagner are attacking from several directions trying to break through the defense of our troops and advance towards the central districts, “said in the morning the commander of the Ukrainian ground forces Oleksandr Syrsky quoted by the press center of the army.
“The closer we are to the city center, the harder the fighting, the more artillery there is,” echoed Evgeny Prigojine, boss of Wagner whose men are on the front line of the fighting for Bakhmout.
General Syrsky assured that Ukrainian troops “inflicted significant losses on the enemy” in this battle, the longest and bloodiest since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine launched in February 2022.
“With artillery fire, tanks […] all attempts to seize the city are repelled,” he argued.
Mr. Prigozhin acknowledged that his forces were facing fierce resistance.
“The situation in Bakhmout is difficult, very difficult. The enemy is fighting for every yard,” he said in a social media post. “Ukrainians throw endless reserves [au combat] “, he added.
The city Bakhmout, which had 70,000 inhabitants before the invasion, has for months been the epicenter of fighting on the eastern front in Ukraine.
If this city largely razed by the bombings has become one of the symbols of the fierce Ukrainian resistance to the invasion, its strategic importance is however disputed by experts.
Soaring arms imports
In this context, some in Ukraine are wondering about the need for Kyiv to continue to fight for this city, the defense of which also involves heavy losses for the Ukrainian army.
And they risk becoming even heavier if the Russian troops manage to encircle Bakhmout when they have already succeeded in cutting off several important roads for the supply of Ukrainian soldiers.
Bakhmout could fall “in the next few days,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned last week.
For the Ukrainian command, it is a question of holding out as long as possible, so that Russia uses there a maximum of men, armaments and ammunition and that it finds itself weakened when Ukraine launches its counter-offensive. expected soon.
“We must gain time to accumulate reserves and launch a counter-offensive,” General Syrsky said on Saturday.
Ukraine intends to attack the Russian army in the weeks or months to come to retake the occupied territories, after initial successes in 2022 in the South, North and East.
For this, it is counting on the delivery of Western armaments, in particular tanks and artillery ammunition with a range of more than 100 km. Europeans and Americans have promised, but their delivery is slow and difficult.
Internationally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has in any case caused a surge in arms imports into Europe, which have almost doubled in 2022, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (SIPRI) published on Monday.
Until then a negligible importer, Ukraine has suddenly become the world’s third largest destination, concentrating 31% of arms imports in Europe and 8% of world trade, according to SIPRI.
Imports from Kyiv, including Western donations intended to help it repel the Russians, have thus multiplied by more than 60 in 2022, according to the institute.
With a 93% surge over one year, European imports have also increased due to the increase in military spending by several European states such as Poland and Norway, and things should accelerate further, according to this annual report.
For its part, the NGO Human Rights Watch denounced Monday in a report the “devastating” consequences of the invasion on orphans and children placed in Ukraine. Thousands of them have been transferred to Russian institutions or families.
“The return of children who have been illegally captured by Russian forces should be an international priority,” said the NGO while urging Kyiv to “urgently” reform its system of care for these children.