Civilians flee Bakhmut as Russian and Ukrainian troops battle in streets of besieged city

The city is ‘almost destroyed’ says its deputy mayor

Joe Middleton
Sunday 05 March 2023 00:05 GMT
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Ukrainian forces are still trying to hold out in some areas of the devastated city
Ukrainian forces are still trying to hold out in some areas of the devastated city (Reuters)

Civilians continued to flee Bakhmut on Saturday as Russian and Ukrainian troops battled in the streets of the besieged city.

A woman was killed and two men badly wounded after trying to cross a makeshift bridge out of the city, according to Ukranian soldiers trying to help them leave.

Oleksandr Marchenko, the city’s deputy mayor, said 4,000 civilians are still living in shelters and have no access to electricity, water or gas.

He told the BBC the area is “almost destroyed” but that Russian forces do not have control of the conurbation.

Bakhmut has for months been a key target of Moscow’s eastern offensive, with Russian troops, including large forces from the private Wagner Group, focusing on the key eastern stronghold.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said in one of its regular intelligence updates that Ukrainian forces defending Bakhmut are facing increasingly strong pressure from Russian forces, with intense fighting taking place in and around the eastern city.

Ukraine is reinforcing the area with elite units, while the Russian army and Wagner group makes further advances into the northern suburbs.

Two key bridges in the city have been destroyed within the last 36 hours, it said, adding that Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of Bakhmut are increasingly limited.

People attend a gathering to mark the first anniversary of the death of eight men killed by Russian forces in Bucha
People attend a gathering to mark the first anniversary of the death of eight men killed by Russian forces in Bucha (AP)

One of those bridges connected Bakhmut to its last main supply route from the Ukrainian-held town of Chasiv Yar, about 13km (eight miles) to the west.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, said losing the bridge meant Ukrainians may start to pull out from parts of the city.

Ukraine may “conduct a limited and controlled withdrawal from particularly difficult sections of eastern Bakhmut”, while trying to prevent Russian movement and limit exit routes to the west.

Soldiers from a Ukrainian assault brigade prepare to fire a British made L118 105mm Howitzer on Russian trenches near Bakhmut
Soldiers from a Ukrainian assault brigade prepare to fire a British made L118 105mm Howitzer on Russian trenches near Bakhmut (Getty)

Capturing Bakhmut would not only give Russian fighters a rare battlefield gain after months of setbacks, but it might rupture supply lines and allow the Kremlin’s forces to press toward other Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Donetsk region.

Elsewhere, Ukraine‘s emergency services reported that the death toll from a Russian missile strike on Thursday that hit a five-story apartment block in southern Ukraine has risen to 10.

It said rescuers pulled three more bodies – including a child – from the wreckage overnight, some 36 hours after a Russian missile tore through four floors of the building in Zaporizhzhia.

On Saturday, Russian shelling also killed two residents of front-line communities in the surrounding region, the local military administration reported in a Telegram post.

A Ukrainian soldier prepares 120 mm mortars at a front line in the Donetsk region
A Ukrainian soldier prepares 120 mm mortars at a front line in the Donetsk region (AFP)

A 57-year-old woman and 68-year-old man died in Nikopol, a town neighbouring the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as Russian forces fired artillery shells and rockets across the Dnieper river, according to regional governor Serhiy Lysak.

In the southern Kherson region, a Russian grenade slammed into a police van in the village of Antonivka, wounding four officers, the local police force reported.

It comes as Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu paid a rare visit to Russia’s forces deployed in Ukraine.

In a statement published on Telegram, the ministry said: “The Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Eastern Military District in the South Donetsk direction.”

In video published by the ministry, Mr Shoigu is seen awarding medals to Russian military personnel and touring a ruined town with the Eastern Military District’s commander, Colonel-General Rustam Muradov.

Russia’s top military chiefs have visited the front line in Ukraine only sparingly since Russia invaded the country a year ago.

Meanwhile, the country’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov provoked laughter from an audience at an international conference in India after he claimed Russia was a victim of Ukrainian aggression.

Additional reporting by agencies

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