Ukrainians mount ‘furious resistance’
Russian forces carried out relentless attacks on Bakhmut yesterday, trying to encircle the small eastern Ukrainian city and claim their first major prize for more than half a year after some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of throwing waves of men into battle in Bakhmut with no regard for their lives. The leader of Russia's Wagner mercenary group said the Ukrainians were putting up "furious resistance" trying to hold the city at all costs.
Russia also said it had repelled a massive drone attack on Crimea, the peninsula its forces seized and claimed to annex in 2014. That came a day after Moscow accused Kyiv of launching a series of drone strikes on targets in Russia itself.
Reuters was able to reach Bakhmut from the west on Monday, proof that the city was not yet surrounded despite Russian forces pressing from north and south to close the last routes in.
Flames and smoke rose into the sky from blazing buildings. Constant gunfire and explosions rang out into the sky. Ukrainian armoured vehicles roared through the streets, while stray dogs wandered amid the mud and debris.
Thousands of residents remain inside the ruined city from a pre-war population of around 70,000.
"It is frightening indeed," said a middle-aged man bundled in a coat and woolly hat on the steps of his apartment block.
The area around Bakhmut has been the one part of the front where Moscow has made substantial gains during a winter offensive that has seen what both sides describe as the bloodiest fighting of the war.
"Russia in general takes no account of people and sends them in constant waves against our positions, the intensity of the fighting is only increasing," Zelensky said in an overnight address, describing the fighting in Bakhmut as "most difficult" but its defence as essential.
In an audio message on social media, Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner private army has led Russia's offensive there, said the Ukrainian military was throwing extra reserves into the battle, "trying to hold the town with all their strength".
The war loomed over a meeting of foreign ministers from the G20 group of big economies in New Delhi, attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Host India does not want Ukraine to dominate the event, but faces calls from Western countries for a clear stance.
"This war has to be condemned," Josep Borrell, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told reporters.