The battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut turns into a battle for the streets

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s military on Saturday said it repulsed multiple attacks in battles surrounding the partially encircled town of Bakhmut, which has escalated into an uphill battle over the roads that are vital lifelines for Ukraine’s supply to the defenders of the City.

Ukrainian soldiers in the city are now surrounded on three sides by a combined force of the Russian army and private security firm Wagner, which also includes fighters recruited from prisons.

On Friday, the company’s owner, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, taunted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video, saying that only one road west of Bakhmut, a city in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, is open. Ukrainian commanders have taken a different view, saying a counterattack last week reopened a second artery into the city and eased supplies to troops inside.

In any case, the seven-month-long Battle of Bakhmut — Russia’s longest-running sustained assault in the war — will now be decided by this see-saw battle over country roads that wind through rolling, grassy hills and small villages in the western city.

The stakes are high. Though military analysts say Russia is unlikely to encroach deeper into Ukrainian territory if it captures Bakhmut, the city’s fall would bring President Vladimir V Putin of Russia a token prize as the first major city to be overrun by his forces since July becomes.

In waves of attacks by Wagner’s forces in the autumn and winter and with relentless artillery, Russia advanced on the city from the south and north. Late last week, Russian troops were within about 700 meters of one of the access roads and were able to fire heavy machine guns at passing vehicles, a Ukrainian commander said in a TV interview on Friday.

Ukraine’s military said in its morning battlefield assessment on Saturday that Russia had continued efforts to encircle the city for the past 24 hours. “Defenders repelled several attacks,” Ukraine’s military said of its forces, providing few details other than listing another Russian attack on a village bordering Ukraine, which it claimed had recently reopened.

British military intelligence announced on Saturday that two important bridges had been blown up. One led west from Bakhmut to the village of Khromove along an important supply route; The other was a pontoon crossing the small Bakhmutka River inside the city.

In the British assessment, only one road – now of unclear use due to the destroyed bridge – was described as being left open to the Ukrainian military. “Ukrainian defenses of the Donbass city of Bakhmut are under increasing pressure as fierce fighting is taking place in and around the city,” the agency said.

The Ukrainian military, if withdrawn, would likely do so in stealth and try to fall back with minimal casualties, military analysts said. It can retreat to the western quarters of the city and use the Bakhmutka River as a line of defense within the city.

At worst, the thousands of Ukrainian troops fighting in Bakhmut could be surrounded, starve of ammunition and killed, or forced into surrender. The battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut turns into a battle for the streets

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