The eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has become the epicenter of a fierce and bloody struggle between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed mercenaries. For months, the city has been under constant shelling, sniper fire, and drone attacks, as both sides seek to gain control of this strategic location. The fate of Bakhmut could determine the outcome of the war that has ravaged the country since 2014.
Bakhmut: A Key to Donbas
Bakhmut is located in the Donetsk region, near the border with Russia. It is a major industrial and transport hub, with a population of about 75,000 people. Before the war, it was known for its sparkling wine production and cultural heritage.
The city is also a gateway to the Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists have declared two self-proclaimed republics: Donetsk and Luhansk. The Donbas region is rich in coal, iron, and other natural resources, and has been a source of tension between Ukraine and Russia for decades.
In 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and supported an armed uprising in Donbas, Ukraine launched an anti-terrorist operation to restore its sovereignty over the region. A series of peace agreements, known as the Minsk accords, were signed in 2015 to end the hostilities and establish a ceasefire. However, the agreements have been repeatedly violated by both sides, and the conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives so far.
The Siege of Bakhmut
In August 2023, Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, breaking through the front lines and advancing towards Kyiv. Ukrainian forces managed to halt the Russian offensive and launch a counterattack in September, regaining some territory and pushing back the invaders.
However, in the east, Russian forces focused their efforts on capturing Bakhmut, which they see as a stepping stone to other cities in Donbas. To achieve this goal, Russia deployed hundreds of mercenaries from the notorious Wagner group, a private military company linked to President Vladimir Putin.
The Wagner group is known for its brutal tactics and disregard for human rights. It has been involved in conflicts in Syria, Libya, Sudan, and other countries, often acting as a proxy for Russian interests. The group is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Putin who is also known as “Putin’s chef” because of his catering business.
The Wagner group has been sending wave after wave of fighters into Bakhmut, using heavy artillery, tanks, drones, and fighter jets to support their assault. The group has also claimed responsibility for several missile attacks on Ukrainian ports and infrastructure, such as Odesa and Zaporizhia.
Ukrainian forces have been resisting the Russian onslaught with courage and determination. They have been using their knowledge of the terrain, their mobility, and their ingenuity to defend their positions and inflict casualties on the enemy. They have also received military assistance from Western allies, such as the US, the UK, Canada, and others.
Despite their efforts, Ukrainian forces have been gradually losing ground in Bakhmut. The city is now mostly in ruins, with thousands of civilians displaced or killed. The Russian forces have cut off most of the supply routes to the city, leaving only one back road open. The Ukrainian defenders are running low on ammunition and resources.
The Future of Bakhmut
The battle for Bakhmut is not over yet. Ukrainian forces are still holding on to some parts of the city, especially on the northern and southern flanks. They are also trying to encircle the Russian forces inside the city and prevent them from escaping or receiving reinforcements.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to liberate Bakhmut and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty over Donbas. He has called on the international community to increase pressure on Russia to stop its aggression and respect the Minsk agreements.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has denied any involvement in the war in Ukraine. He has accused Kyiv of violating the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Donbas and provoking violence. He has also warned that any attempt by NATO or other countries to intervene militarily would have serious consequences.
The situation in Bakhmut remains tense and unpredictable. The city could become a symbol of either victory or defeat for either side. The fate of Bakhmut could also affect the prospects for peace and stability in Ukraine and beyond.