In Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops cling to western edge of a destroyed city

In Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops cling to western edge of a destroyed city
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BAKHMUT, Ukraine — Moving between apartment blocks, small teams of Ukrainian and Russian ground forces are battling for control of Bakhmut’s western edge.

“We can attack and repel them for a day or two, or they can advance, and we have to retreat again,” said a 35-year old Ukrainian junior sergeant responsible for holding a position in a high-rise building just a few yards from the front line. Like others in this report, he spoke on condition that he only be identified by his rank and call sign “Bandit” in keeping with military protocol.

For months, Ukraine and Russia have flooded Bakhmut with reinforcements and carted away thousands of dead and wounded in what has become the longest, bloodiest battle of the war. Now, after eight months of Ukraine steadily ceding territory, the fight is closing in on just a few square miles of the city’s west.

As the vise tightens — with Russians assaulting from the north, east and south — Kyiv is determined to draw the fight out as long as possible, hoping to deplete its enemy ahead of what is expected to be a high-stakes offensive aimed at dislodging Russian forces from a large swath of occupied territory.In an effort to speed up its advance, Russia has begun destroying entire apartment blocks used by Ukraine as defensive positions. The city is flattened in many places and most of its prewar population of about 70,000 have fled.

The Wagner mercenary group has largely led Russia’s fight for Bakhmut and its leader, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, has repeatedly claimed his forces were on the verge of taking the city. Prigozhin personally broadcast videos marking Wagner advances after pushing into city center, including one in which his fighters placing a flag on a World War II liberation monument and another from the city’s main administration building last month.

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