The top commander of the Ukrainian army says his troops are pushing back the Russian attack on the town in the Donbas region.
Ukrainian troops have “succeeded in stabilizing the situation around the eastern city of Bakhmut”, the head of the Ukrainian army said.
The now-devastated city has been at the center of the biggest battle in the Russian war in recent months.
The situation on the frontline is “the toughest towards Bakhmut,” Valery Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, said after a phone call with British chief of defense staff Tony Radakin.
“Thanks to the enormous efforts of the armed forces, we manage to stabilize the situation,” Zaluzhny said said in a message on Facebook late Friday.
Bakhmut, which once had a population of some 70,000, has been virtually stripped of civilians after months of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, although some residents remain.
Russian troops have been painstakingly making increasing gains around the city, whose symbolic importance has surpassed any military significance as the battle continues.
The battle for Bakhmut is one of the bloodiest and longest in the war, entering its second year in February.
A woman uses her smartphone while sitting in the garden of a house in Chasiv Yar near Bakhmut (Aris Messinis/AFP)
According to the latest intelligence update on Saturday from the British Ministry of Defence, the Russian attack on Bakhmut has “largely stalled.
“This is probably primarily due to extreme exhaustion of the Russian armed forces,” the British statement said, adding that Ukraine had also suffered “heavy casualties”.
Senior Ukrainian military commander Oleksandr Syrsky said a counterattack could soon be launched against “exhausted” Russian forces near Bakhmut.
“The aggressor has not given up hope of taking Bakhmut at all costs, despite the losses in manpower and equipment,” Syrsky said.
“They spare nothing, lose a lot of strength and get exhausted,” he added, referring to successful Ukrainian counter-offensives last year saying: “Soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did near Kiev, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk.”
But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a counter-offensive cannot take place now because his country lacks weapons, equipment and ammunition.
Zelenskyy’s assessment, made in a report published Saturday in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun daily, came after he visited troops near Bakhmut’s frontline on Wednesday.
“We can’t start yet,” Zelenskyy said. Without tanks and artillery, “no brave soldiers” could be sent to the front, he said.
The head of Wagner’s Russian private militia, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had previously said his forces were in control of about 70 percent of Bakhmut.
About 10,000 Ukrainians, many of them elderly and disabled, remained in and around Bakhmut and suffered “deeply appalling conditions,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday.
“They spend almost all day with intense shelling in the shelters,” Umar Khan of the aid group said at a news conference. “All you see is people being pushed to the limits of their existence and survival and resilience.”