According to military observers, Kiev could withdraw part of its armed forces from the city of Bakhmut, which has been fought over for months. "Ukrainian forces may withdraw from their positions on the east bank of the Bakhmutka River in light of the geolocation imagery confirmed March 3 destruction of the railway bridge across the river in northeast Bakhmut," the US-based Institute for War Studies wrote (ISW). According to Russian military bloggers, the Wagner mercenary force fighting there has meanwhile taken parts in the east, south and north of Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian military has not yet officially confirmed the withdrawal. On the situation maps, however, the areas east of the Bakhmutka River are now marked as Russian or so-called gray zones. The Ukrainian general staff reported on Monday morning in its situation report on ongoing fighting in the area. Both the city itself and a number of suburbs were shelled by the Russian side.
For months there has been fighting around Bachmut, where around 74,000 people lived before the war. The city, in the ruins of which, according to official figures, around 5,000 civilians are still holding out, was almost completely destroyed. After the Russian troops were driven out of the Kharkiv region, Bakhmut's strategic value is low, since there is no threat of encirclement of the conurbation between Sloviansk and Kramatorsk after the fall. For the Russian military leadership, however, the receipt has great symbolic power, since it has to show successes.
Circled from three sides
The Ukrainian side held Bakhmut for a long time, since the well-developed positions in the city made it possible for the attackers to inflict heavy casualties during their slow advance. Nevertheless, indications and reports of a planned troop withdrawal have been piling up lately, after the Russians have meanwhile surrounded Bakhmut from three sides and are advancing towards the last access road from the rear to supply the Ukrainian units.
After a briefing on Monday between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Commander-in-Chief Valery Saluschnyy and the head of the land forces, Olexander Syrskyy, it was decided, according to Kiev, to keep Bakhmut at least for the time being. The president asked Zalushny and Syrsky about the advisability of the defense, according to the website of the Presidential Office. "They spoke out in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut," it said. According to observers, the report could be a reaction to rumors published by the "Bild" newspaper, among others, about a rift between Zelenskyy and Salushnyy over the actions in Bakhmut.