The comments from a senior presidential aide are the latest signal of a shift by Kiev to continue defending the city in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has decided to continue fighting in the devastated city of Bakhmut as the battle traps Russia’s best units ahead of a planned spring Ukrainian counter-offensive, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Mykhailo Podolyak’s comments on Friday were the latest signal of a shift by Kiev this week to continue the defense of the small eastern city, where Moscow is trying to secure its first major victory in more than half a year.
Russia “has gathered in Bakhmut with a large part of its trained military, the remnants of its professional army and the private companies,” Podolyak said in an interview published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
“We therefore have two aims: to reduce their skilled personnel as much as possible and to fix them in a few important, exhausting battles, to disrupt their offensive and to concentrate our resources elsewhere, for the counter-offensive in the spring. So today Bakhmut is fully effective and even exceeds its core functions.
Moscow has captured the eastern part of the city and the suburbs to the north and south, but has so far failed to close a ring around Ukrainian defenders.
Kiev appeared to be making plans to withdraw westward in early March. However, it announced this week that its generals had decided to reinforce Bakhmut and continue fighting.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private militia that led the Russian attack, claimed that the military command was unable to supply its men with sufficient ammunition because Russia’s advance appeared to be slowing.
Prigozhin publicly thanked the government on Friday for a “heroic” increase in production, but said in the same audio message that he was “concerned about ammunition and shell shortages, not only for Wagner … but for all units of the Russian army”.
He said his private army had opened recruiting centers in 42 cities to replenish its ranks after heavy losses in the battle of Bakhmut. He gave no indication of the number of combatants involved.
Except around Bakhmut, Russia’s winter offensive has largely lost ground.
Despite a barrage of attacks on critical infrastructure involving missiles and drones, Ukraine’s capital restored most of its power supply on Friday, officials said.
Serhii Popko, the head of Kiev’s military administration, said power and water have been restored to the city and about 30 percent of consumers in the capital are without heating and repairs are underway.
Power in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region has been fully restored, private provider DTEK said Friday afternoon.
About 60 percent of households in the city of Kharkiv knocked off the grid by Russian missile strikes on Thursday were also back online, authorities said, though significant damage remained in the Zhytomyr and Kharkov regions of northwestern and northeastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said Russia hit civilian infrastructure because they have “no data on the location of Ukrainian troops and weapons”.
“They are targeting civilian infrastructure and using the same old methods of attacking civilians to instill fear and panic in society,” he said.