Ukraine and Russia have reported heavy casualties as the slow, uphill struggle for control of the salt mining town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine continues.
Ukraine controls the area west of now-devastated and nearly deserted Bakhmut, while Russia’s Wagner Group controls most of the eastern part, according to British intelligence, with the Bakhmutka River winding through the city and marking the frontline.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 1,100 Russian soldiers have been killed in fighting along the Bakhmut section of the frontline in recent days.
“In less than a week, from March 6, we managed to kill more than 1,100 enemy soldiers in the Bakhmut sector alone, the irreversible loss of Russia, right there, near Bakhmut,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video speech.
He added that some 1,500 Russian soldiers were so badly wounded that they could no longer fight.
Russia’s defense ministry said its troops are conducting further military operations in the eastern Donetsk region, which, along with neighboring Luhansk, forms industrial Donbas.
The ministry said Russian forces killed more than 220 Ukrainian servicemen in the past 24 hours.
“Towards Donetsk… more than 220 Ukrainian soldiers, an infantry fighting vehicle, three armored fighting vehicles, seven vehicles and a D-30 howitzer were destroyed during the day,” the ministry said.
Both sides have admitted to suffering in Bakhmut in recent months and significant casualties, although it is difficult to independently verify the exact number of casualties.
Ukraine has repeatedly said Bakhmut’s defenses would continue, with top commanders saying over the weekend that the fighting there will allow them to gain time needed to prepare a wider counterattack.
“On Bakhmut: the situation there is difficult, very difficult, the enemy is fighting for every meter,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group of mercenaries, said Sunday in a voice recording published on the Telegram channel of his press service.
“And the closer to the city center, the fiercer the fighting.”
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would shake Ukrainian defenses and be a step towards capturing all of Donbas, a key target.
But there is also fighting and heavy shelling all along the frontline in eastern and southern Ukraine, including other parts of Donetsk.
Russian-installed officials in Donetsk said the city was shelled four times by Ukrainian troops on Sunday, hitting residential areas and damaging power lines.
The Reuters news agency could not independently verify the report. Both sides have repeatedly stated that they have not targeted civilians in their attacks.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, as have soldiers on both sides. Russia has bombed Ukrainian cities and displaced millions of civilians in what Kiev and the West call an unprovoked war of conquest.
Svetlana Boiko, 66, was injured in the shelling of Donetsk when her apartment was hit. She told Reuters that shelling “used to fly overhead without ever hitting us.”
“This is the first time since 2014 that it has affected us. So this is what 2023 looks like,” Boiko said.
In September, Russia claimed it had annexed the Donetsk region and three other Ukrainian regions, including parts held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.