After 10 months of one of the longest and bloodiest battles in Russia’s war in Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers are now defending a shrinking half-circle of ruins in a western neighborhood of Bakhmut, only about 20 blocks wide and continually pounded with artillery.
Pushed into this ever-smaller corner of the 16-square-mile city, the Ukrainian army is determined to hunker down and hold out, even as allies have quietly questioned the rationale for fighting block by block, sustaining significant casualties, in a city that is a devastating panorama of damaged buildings and rubble.
Even six weeks ago, Ukraine’s toehold in Bakhmut, site of some of the fiercest urban combat in Europe since World War II, had seemed tenuous and the city close to being encircled, according to recently leaked U.S. intelligence documents. A visit this week to the remaining, battered zone of control, along with interviews with soldiers and commanders, showed that Ukraine had lost ground inside the city, although an access road remained passable, allowing resupply and evacuation of wounded.
In Kyiv’s assessment, holding out in these grim conditions is a strategic imperative, to bog down the Russian Army while Ukraine rearms and retrains its own military for a coming counteroffensive.
“It’s a really tough battle,” said Col. Pavlo Palisa, commander of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, the Ukrainian unit that holds most of the urban front line in the fighting inside Bakhmut. He spoke to The New York Times during an interview in a bunker this week, as grime-covered soldiers fresh from the front, carrying rifles and grenade launchers, walked in and out.