"Pressure from Russian forces in the battle-worn town of Bakhmut has the remaining residents fleeing amid rumors of a large-scale pullout of Ukrainian forces. Western analysts say Ukrainian forces are preparing to withdraw from the key eastern city. Ukrainian forces are reportedly destroying bridges along roads out of Bakhmut as they fall back into new defensive lines north of the city," says the private intelligence group Forward Observer in a Monday report to subscribers.
An analyst comment that accompanied the note revealed why the region is important to Moscow: "Russian military officials appear to be focused on Bakhmut in an effort to gain at least a moderate military victory against Ukraine. The strategic importance of Bakhmut is its control over several key lines of communication into Donetsk Oblast. Russian officials have declared control of the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as their primary objects in this winter’s suboptimal offensive."
Despite continued Russian aggression from the north, east, and south in an effort to encircle the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with his top defense and security officials on Monday and declared that Kyiv had no plans to surrender the city, which has been nearly destroyed, according to the Washington Post.
Amid reports of Ukrainian soldiers fighting under dire conditions and some military experts suggesting that Bakhmut holds little long-term strategic importance to Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with his top defense and security officials on Monday and declared that Kyiv has no intention of surrendering the nearly destroyed city in the eastern Donetsk region. His office released a statement saying that both Valery Zaluzhny, the Ukrainian military commander in chief, and Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of ground forces directing operations in the east, had endorsed reinforcing and continuing the city's defense, the Post added.
“Assessing the course of the defense operation, the President asked Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny and Commander of the [eastern group of] troops Oleksandr Syrsky about further actions in the Bakhmut direction,” the statement said. “They spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut.”
The fact that Zelensky's office had to issue the statement shows that there is a growing sense of uncertainty and doubt in Ukraine and around the world. Military experts from the West have cautioned that the fight to prevent Russia from achieving a largely symbolic victory could be too costly for Ukraine, the Post's report continued.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, made clear that Ukrainian commanders and Zelensky were of one mind on defending the city: “In order to avoid various insinuations that affect public sentiment, the opinion of the members of the [staff] regarding the defense operation was made public. We continue to defend our land, regardless of all sides of the assessment of the situation.”
According to accounts from soldiers stationed in or around Bakhmut, the situation has become increasingly challenging. The intensity of the fighting is so high that some soldiers, like Dmytro Vatagin, 48, have searched houses for Russian forces and ended up engaging them in hand-to-hand combat, resulting in the capture of some combatants as prisoners of war.
“Fistfights have been happening,” he said. “Everyone has their own fighting story.”
The Post adds:
To maintain control of the highway that connects Ivanivske to Bakhmut, Vatagin's team has to bear the brunt of Russian artillery attacks, despite the road being a crucial supply route. As Russian forces control the surrounding areas, the team is regularly subjected to shelling. In the past two days alone, they have lost eight reconnaissance drones and had two soldiers wounded.
“We were given the command to hold the road out of Bakhmut to ensure our guys get everything they need, and we will hold that one until they tell us otherwise,” he told the paper.