Pressure on Ukrainian troops and civilians is mounting in Bakhmut, as Kiev troops try to help residents flee the besieged city to the east.
A woman was killed and two men were badly injured by shelling as they tried to cross a makeshift bridge from Bakhmut on Saturday, according to Ukrainian troops who helped them.
A Ukrainian military representative, who declined to be named for operational reasons, told the Associated Press news agency that it was now too dangerous for civilians to leave the city by vehicle and people had to flee on foot instead.
Bakhmut has been a prime target of Moscow’s dragging eastern offensive for months, with Russian forces, including large forces from the private Wagner group, closing in on Kiev’s main eastern stronghold.
AP journalists near Bakhmut reported on Saturday that they had seen a pontoon bridge erected by Ukrainian soldiers to help the town’s few remaining residents reach the nearby village of Khromove. Later, they saw at least five houses on fire due to attacks in Khromove.
Over the past 36 hours, Ukrainian units have destroyed two key bridges just outside Bakhmut, including one connecting it to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining Ukrainian supply route, according to British military intelligence officials and other Western analysts.
The British Ministry of Defense said in the latest of its regular Twitter updates that the destruction of the bridges came as Russian fighters pushed further into Bakhmut’s northern suburbs and increased pressure on Ukrainian defenders.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, assessed late Friday that Kiev’s actions may indicate an imminent Ukrainian withdrawal from parts of the city.
It said Ukrainian troops could “carry out a limited and controlled withdrawal from particularly difficult parts of eastern Bachmut” as they try to curb Russian movement there and limit escape routes to the west.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Friday that his fighters had “virtually surrounded” Bakhmut. In the latest video, Prigozhin directly called on Zelensky to leave the city.
The capture of Bakhmut would not only give Russian fighters a rare battlefield gain after months of setbacks, but it could also sever Ukraine’s supply lines and allow Kremlin forces to advance on other Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Donetsk region .
As the fighting continued, civilians remaining in the area spoke of their daily struggle amid near-constant enemy fire. Bakhmut resident Hennadiy Mazepa and his wife Natalia Ishkova both chose to remain in Bakhmut, even as fierce fighting left much of the city in ruins.
Speaking to the AP on Saturday, Ishkova said they suffered from a lack of food and basic services.
“Humanitarian (aid) is given to us only once a month. There is no electricity, no water, no gas,” she said. “I pray to God that all who stay here will survive.”
Elsewhere, Ukrainian emergency services reported that the death toll from a Russian missile attack on Thursday that hit a five-story apartment building in southern Ukraine has risen to 10.
The main directorate of Ukraine’s state emergency service said in an online statement that rescuers pulled three more bodies from the wreckage overnight, some 36 hours after a Russian missile pierced four floors of the building in the riverside city of Zaporizhzhia. It said a child was among the dead and the rescue was continuing.
Russian shelling on Saturday also killed two residents of frontline communities in the surrounding Zaporizhia region, the local military administration said in a Telegram message.
A 57-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man also died in Nikopol, a town further west adjacent to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, when Russian troops stationed there fired artillery shells and rockets into Ukrainian territory across the Dnieper River . , regional governor Serhiy Lysak reported on Saturday.
In the southern Kherson region, a Russian grenade hit a police van in the village of Antonivka, injuring four officers, the local police reported on its Facebook page.
Zelenskyy has pledged to defend “Bakhmut Fortress” as long as possible, calling on allies to rally their support to help his men do so.
On Saturday, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola visited Ukraine, where she called for the country to be allowed to start EU membership negotiations this year.
US President Joe Biden received German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday for his first visit since the offensive, in a show of cooperation following a disagreement over the supply of tanks to Ukraine.
Before the meeting, the Kremlin warned that arms transfers “would only prolong the conflict and have sad consequences for the Ukrainian people”.
The US responded to Moscow’s warning against further arming Ukraine by offering an additional $400 million in security aid.