Under approaching Russian fire in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine

Under approaching Russian fire in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine


Days are spent under a hail of shells, and the night brings no rest for Ukrainian soldiers as enemy forces close in on Bakhmut, one of the last cities where Russian troops are still advancing.

The metallic bang of the shells echoed over the hills surrounding the small town, which was home to 70,000 people before the war.

Russia has fallen behind on its offensive – but in Bakhmut, unlike on most front lines, the Ukrainians are on the defensive.

They face the “most difficult” challenges, said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this weekend.

Ukrainian troops still control the northern and western parts of the city, AFP journalists noted on Saturday.

Metal crosses and concrete blocks mark the Ukrainian front line, dubbed the “zero point.” Nobody is allowed to pass.

Around him, in the “grey zone”, Russia is going on the offensive.

Pro-Russian separatists have advanced east and south of Bakhmut, relying on their base in the city of Donetsk, some 100 kilometers away.

On Thursday they said they had recaptured two neighboring villages, Opytine and Ivangrad.

– melee –

The retaking of the two villages raised fears that Russian forces, including Wagner paramilitary units, may have infiltrated the eastern part of the town, according to a British intelligence statement.

On the spot, Ukrainian soldiers told the AFP news agency that there had now been a hand-to-hand fight with members of the pro-Russian armed forces.

Enemy troops “start when night falls. They send their reconnaissance units around 6 p.m.,” said a soldier using the combat name “Poliak.”

In a bitter voice, the 50-year-old of the 93rd Brigade said inexperienced “one-way” soldiers were being sent into the line of fire to “distract attention” from more experienced sabotage units.

“Between there and 5 a.m. we get about seven or eight (diversionary) attacks like this,” he explained.

Poliak recently suffered a minor shrapnel wound and returned exhausted from the fiercest fighting.

After four sleepless nights, the former truck driver said he was having “hallucinations” of stress and fatigue.

One evening his unit opened fire, thinking they could see a Russian commando through night vision goggles.

Early in the morning they found they had shot at a pile of logs.

In the meantime, the unit has gotten some rest. Of the 13 men, five were injured and two never came back.

– target lost –

Every building in the Ukrainian-controlled center of Bakhmut bears the marks of two months of intense fighting.

Windows of the still standing buildings were smashed and roofs torn off.

Living in their basements, civilians take great risks when searching for food, water, fuel, fresh air, or electricity from community generators.

There is no running water in Bakhmut and the electricity was completely cut off ten days ago.

Miraculously, the telephone network held up.

People stock up on groceries at the market where a few items are laid out on wooden boards.

An 80-year-old woman stood in the street in shock, holding a whistle for her wood stove.

“We can’t even bury people anymore,” she said.

“My sister lay under the rubble overnight (after a strike) from October 12th to 13th. Nobody can get her body .

“My bees are somewhere in the forest and left to their own devices. And we have to fend for ourselves too,” she said, breaking down in tears.

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