'There were no other positions': Ukraine vows to defend Bakhmut amid persistent Russian attacks

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  • Ukraine said it would continue defending Bakhmut, despite Russian gains.
  • The battle centres on Russia's ability to capture the Donbas region.
  • The battle has depleted both sides.

Ukraine's top generals have vowed to keep defending the eastern city of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, as Russian forces battled to tighten their siege and secure their first major battlefield gain in more than six months.

Russian forces have been trying to take Bakhmut for months and says capturing it would be a step toward its objective of seizing all of the surrounding Donbas region. But Western strategists say it would be more of a pyrrhic victory given the time taken and the mass casualties.

Ukrainian troops have been reinforcing positions west of the city in apparent preparation for a possible withdrawal but appear not to have decided to pull out.

Zelensky said he discussed Bakhmut with the regional commander and Ukraine's commander in chief and that both had said "not to withdraw" and to strengthen defences.

"The command unanimously supported this position. There were no other positions. I told the commander in chief to find the appropriate forces to help our guys in Bakhmut," Zelensky said in his nightly address on Monday.

The battle in Bakhmut has depleted artillery reserves on both sides, with thousands of shells fired daily along the eastern and southern fronts. 

Ukrainian servicemen drive a tank in the village o
Ukrainian servicemen drive a tank in the village of Chasiv Yar, near the city of Bakhmut in the region of Donbas amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kyiv's European allies are working on a deal to procure more ammunition.

The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary force, which has led the Bakhmut assault, said on Monday he needed the regular army to supply him with more ammunition if he was to win the battle.

READ | 'Ordinary bureaucracy or a betrayal': Wagner chief demands more ammunition to hold Bakhmut position

The appeal from Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin underlines a deepening rift between him and the Russian defence ministry, which he has accused of deliberately starving his men of ammunition, an allegation the ministry has rejected.

"I'm knocking on all doors and sounding the alarm about ammunition and reinforcements, as well as the need to cover our flanks," he said in a statement.

He added:

If everyone is coordinated, without ambition, screw-ups and tantrums, and carries out this work, then we will block the armed forces of Ukraine. If not, then everyone will be screwed.

There was no response from the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has broadened a request for cluster bombs from the US to include a weapon that it wants to cannibalise for the bomblets they contain to drop on Russian forces from drones, according to two US lawmakers.

Cluster munitions, banned by more than 120 countries, release large numbers of bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area, threatening civilians.

A National Security Council spokesperson said that while Ukraine and the White House "closely coordinate" on military aid, she had no "new capabilities to announce".

On the battlefield, fighting raged on the northern, eastern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut, with Russian forces making only limited headway in the outlying district of Bakhmutovka, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said on YouTube.

Reuters could not verify battlefield reports.

Bakhmut needs to be held to prevent advances toward Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Druzhkivka, towns further west in Donetsk, Roman Svitan, a Ukrainian army colonel in the reserves, said in comments on the Espreso TV website.

Several strategists, however, say a gradual withdrawal would be prudent.

Ukraine may "pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare", the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in an assessment.

Military historian Roman Ponomarenko told Ukrainian NV Radio that Ukraine needed to "conduct a reasonable withdrawal" while preserving its forces for "regrouping and holding the front".

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that Bakhmut was more of symbolic than operational importance and its fall would not "necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight".

Ukrainian soldiers ride an infantry fighting vehic
Ukrainian soldiers ride an infantry fighting vehicle along a road not far from Bakhmut, Donetsk region amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia's offensive has produced no notable gains, failing to seize ground in Luhansk province further north and taking heavy losses, in particular around Vuhledar to the south.

Russia initially described its invasion more than a year ago as a "special military operation" to "denazify" and demilitarise Ukraine, but now increasingly casts it as a fight against the aggression of the "collective West".

Since then, tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions have fled and cities have been reduced to rubble.

Ukraine's authorities estimate more than 16 000 children have been deported to Russia since the beginning of the war. Russia says it has been evacuating people voluntarily.

Ukraine has brought 307 children out of Russia-occupied territories, its human rights ombudsman said on Monday.

Separately, Russia's FSB security service said it had thwarted a Ukraine-backed car bomb attack against a prominent nationalist businessman. There was no comment from Ukraine.

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