Russia continues to operate in eastern Ukraine; Bakhmut “destroyed”

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces have “destroyed” the eastern Ukrainian city of BakhmutPresident Volodymyr Zelensky said as Ukraine’s military on Saturday reported rocket, missile and air strikes in multiple parts of the country Moscow is trying to seize after months of resistance.

The latest battles of Russia’s war for 9 and a half months in Ukraine are centered on four provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin triumphantly – and illegally – claimed to have annexed in late September. The fighting shows Russia’s struggle for establishing control over these regions and Ukraine’s persistence in getting them back.

Zelensky said the situation “remains very difficult” in several frontline towns in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Together, the provinces form the Donbass, an expansive industrial region bordering Russia that Putin defined as a focus since the start of the war and where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

“Bahmut, Soledar, Marinka, Cremina. For a long time, there was not a living place left on the land of these areas that was not damaged by shells and fire,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address, naming the cities that were once again in the crosshairs. “The occupiers actually destroyed Bakhmut, another city in Donbas, which the Russian army turned into burnt ruins.

Zelensky did not specify what he meant by “destroyed” — some buildings are still standing, and residents are still walking the streets of the city.

Ukraine’s military general staff reported rocket attacks, about 20 airstrikes and more than 60 missile attacks in Ukraine between Friday and Saturday. Spokesman Alexander Stupun said the most active fighting was in the Bakhmut region, where more than 20 settlements were shelled. He said Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian attacks in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk.

Russia’s intensified eastern offensive managed to capture almost all of Luhansk in the summer. Donetsk escaped the same fateand the Russian military in recent weeks has poured manpower and resources around Bakhmut in an effort to encircle the city, analysts and Ukrainian officials said.

After Ukrainian forces captured the southern city of Kherson nearly a month ago, the battle around Bakhmut has heated up, demonstrating Putin’s desire for visible gains after weeks of clear setbacks in Ukraine.

The capture of Bakhmut would cut Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to push towards Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, key Ukrainian bastions in Donetsk. Russia fired missiles at Bakhmut for more than half the year. The ground offensive accelerated after her troops forced the Ukrainians to withdraw from Luhansk in July.

But some analysts have questioned Russia’s strategic logic in its relentless pursuit of Bakhmut and surrounding areas, which have also come under intense shelling in recent weeks and where Ukrainian officials have reported that some residents are living in damp basements.

“The costs associated with six months of brutal, grueling and attrition-based fighting around #Bakhmut far outweigh any operational advantage the #Russians might gain from capturing Bakhmut,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, posted in his Twitter feed on Thursday.

On Friday, Putin criticized recent comments by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said the 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine negotiated by France and Germany had bought Ukraine time to prepare for war with Russia this year.

That deal was intended to cool tensions after pro-Russian separatists seized territory in the Donbas a year earlier, sparking a war with Ukrainian forces that escalated into a war with Russia itself after the February 24 full-scale invasion.

The Ukrainian army on Saturday also reported strikes in other provinces: Kharkiv and Sumy in the northeast, Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine, Zaporozhye in the southeast and Kherson in the south. The latter two, along with Donetsk and Luhansk, are the four regions Putin claims are now Russian territory.

In Odessa, a key Black Sea port city in the west, overnight drone attacks left much of the region without electricity, local government chief Maxim Marchenko said.


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