Russia has focused on seizing Bakhmut for a much-needed success that could also serve as a springboard into the rest of Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas region.
Ukraine has tried to wear down Russian forces by forcing a protracted fight over a city it has said has limited strategic value, but the country’s military said in a Facebook post on Saturday that «the enemy doesn’t stop trying to surround the city of Bakhmut.
It added that the attacks had been repelled in the villages of Ivanivske and Bohdanivka, which lie less than 5 miles west of Bakhmut’s city center. The capture of those towns, which flank the crucial Bakhmut-Chasiv Yar highway on either side, would leave the city on the cusp of total Russian encirclement.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in its regular intelligence bulletin on Saturday that Russian troops had advanced further into Bakhmut, along with forces from the Wagner Group, a private paramilitary contractor.
“In the last 36 hours, two key bridges in Bakhmut have been destroyed,” the bulletin said, and that “Ukrainian-held resupply routes out of the city are increasingly limited.”
Ukraine’s actions suggest it may be planning to withdraw from parts of the city, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said late Friday.
He said Ukrainian troops can «conduct a limited and controlled withdrawal from particularly difficult sections of eastern Bakhmut» as they seek to inhibit Russian movement there and limit exit routes to the west.
Elsewhere, in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, rescuers found the bodies of three other people on Saturday after the Russian shelling of a five-story apartment block on Thursday, Ukrainian emergency services said in a Facebook post on Saturday. .
This brought the total death toll to 10, he said, adding that a child was among the dead.
NBC News cannot verify the death toll and Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians and residential buildings, which is a war crime.