Russia claims gains in relentless battles in east Ukraine
Russian forces claimed incremental gains in eastern Ukraine on Monday adding up to their biggest advances in months, after wave upon wave of attacks that Kyiv said showed Moscow had no regard for the lives of its own men.
The administrator of Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk province, Denis Pushilin, said troops had secured a foothold in Vuhledar, a coal mining town whose ruins have been a Ukrainian bastion since the outset of the war.
A day earlier, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force said his fighters had secured Blahodatne, a village just north of Bakhmut, a city that has been the focus of sustained Russian attacks for months.
Kyiv said it had repelled assaults on Blahodatne and Vuhledar, and Reuters could not independently verify the situations there. But the locations of the reported fighting indicated clear, though gradual, Russian gains after around two months in which front lines had largely been frozen in place.
“The situation is very tough. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region – there are constant Russian attacks,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address late on Sunday.
“The enemy does not count its people and, despite numerous casualties, maintains a high intensity of attacks.”
Vuhledar sits south of Bakhmut, near where the eastern frontline protects Russian-controlled rail lines supplying Moscow’s forces in southern Ukraine. Mykola Salamakha, a Ukrainian colonel and military analyst, told Ukrainian Radio NV that Moscow’s assault there was coming at huge cost.
“The town is on an upland and an extremely strong defensive hub has been created there,” he said. “This is a repetition of the situation in Bakhmut – one wave of Russian troops after another crushed by the Ukrainian armed forces.”
In recent weeks Western countries have pledged hundreds of modern tanks and armoured vehicles to equip Ukrainian forces for a counter-offensive to recapture territory later in 2023.
But delivery of those weapons is months away, leaving Kyiv to fight on through the winter in what both sides have described as a meat grinder of relentless attritional warfare.
After Russia exhausted its military with a failed assault on Kyiv last year, Ukraine’s forces counter-attacked and recaptured swathes of territory in the autumn. But that advance has stalled since November, allowing Russia to retake the initiative.
Moscow’s Wagner mercenary force has sent thousands of convicts recruited from Russian prisons into battle around Bakhmut, buying time for Russia’s regular military to reconstitute units with hundreds of thousands of reservists.
Zelenskiy said the West must hasten the delivery of its promised weapons so that Ukraine could go back on the offensive.