More than any other city, Bakhmut represents Ukraine’s grueling, protracted war. The city has been relentlessly attacked by Russia for about eight months now, making it a burnt-out ghost town.
The Wagner Group, a private militia owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with ties to Vladimir Putin, sends a barrage of soldiers and mercenaries from Moscow in an attempt to attack Ukrainian strongholds, suffering significant casualties. Ukraine has also lost more than 1,100 soldiers fighting along the Bakhmut section of the frontline, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
“In less than a week, from March 6, we managed to kill more than 1,100 enemy soldiers in the Bakhmut sector alone, the irreversible loss of Russia, right there, near Bakhmut,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the nation.
The city at times looked as if it was about to give way as Russian troops closed in. Yet Ukrainian fighters have maintained their position on the ground.
Russia wants Bakhmut. But why?
The city of Bakhmut is located in the eastern part of Donetsk, more than 650 kilometers southeast of Kiev and 16 kilometers from the border with the Luhansk region. With a pre-war population of about 71,000, the industrial city was popular for its salt and gypsum mines.
The battle for Bakhmut can be seen as a targeted attack by Russia, due to the recent logistical challenges observed by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Insufficient preparation, poor logistics and unrealistic planning are some of the reasons for the failure of Russia’s swift invasion of Ukraine, according to the Swedish Defense University.
With the capture of Bakhmut, Russia is in a sense trying to cut off all supply routes to Lysychansk, where it plans to place a block, said Padmashree Anandhan, research associate, National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, speaking to WION. “This would weaken Ukraine’s position on the ground.” she added.
Bakhmut was originally “not a particularly symbolically or strategically important city,” said Karolina Hird, Russia analyst at ISW, speaking to the Washington Post.
“Bakhmut has become a battle of pride,” Anandhan said. It can be seen as a political goal to tell Europe that Russia has the ability to push back Ukraine.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday described Bakhmut as “an important defense hub for the Ukrainian armed forces” in the east.
“Getting it under control will allow further offensives to be launched deep into the defenses of the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said in a statement.
For Ukrainians, Bakhmut is not only a supply route, but also an open point for future fighting in Donetsk, given the city’s geographical location.
Bakhmut’s defeat could force Ukraine to think about how long the conflict could last and how it could use new weapons to advance in Donetsk, Anandhan said.
In addition, Bakhmut is an industrial region, rich in mining reserves. The loss of the city could have economic consequences for Ukraine. Therefore, Ukraine may not want to give up Bakhmut so easily, Anandhan added.
What does Ukraine look like on a map, one year after the war?
Russian ground forces quickly entered the country and took over a significant part of Ukraine within weeks. They had reached the outskirts of Kiev and, according to the ISW, were in full control of Sumy and most of the northeastern part of the country.
Russian soldiers overran the port city of Mariupol while shelling Kharkov and seizing land as far east and south as Kherson.
However, they met fierce Ukrainian resistance almost everywhere and encountered significant logistical challenges due to an acute shortage of food, water and ammunition, as reported by the BBC.
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The Nlaw anti-tank system, which was quickly deployed by Ukrainian forces and proved highly effective against the Russian attack, was one of the weapons provided by the West.
With the influx of more Western ammunition, the situation for Ukraine changed. Russia had completely withdrawn from the north after failing to take Kiev, the BBC reported.
When Russia was forced to withdraw from Kharkiv, Ukraine won its first significant victory and launched a counterattack near Kherson.
Ukraine has Kherson’s authority and has largely halted Russian advances in the east after the invasion a year ago.