War’s longest battle exacts high price in ‘heart of Ukraine’

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Visitors can stroll Pakmut’s late 19th-century buildings, stroll its rose-lined lakeside park and delight in sparkling wines produced in historic underground caves. This city in eastern Ukraine was a popular tourist destination.

Not anymore. The longest battle of Russia’s war Salt and gypsum mines have turned this city into a ghost town. Despite bombing, shelling and attempts to encircle Bagmouth Russian forces did not capture it for six months.

But their scorched earth tactics make it impossible for civilians to have a semblance of life there.

“Now there is hell on earth; I don’t have enough words to describe it,” said Petro Voloshenko, a Ukrainian soldier known as Stone on the battlefield, his voice rising with emotion and disgust.

Voloshenko, originally from Kiev, was in the area in August when the Russian offensive began and was celebrating his birthday, Christmas and the New Year.

The 44-year-old watched as the city, 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Russian border, gradually turned into a wasteland of rubble.. Most of the houses were crushed and uninhabitable without roofs, roofs, windows and doors, he said.

Of the pre-war population of 80,000, there are only a few thousand residents. They rarely see daylight because they spend most of their time in the basement, sheltering from the ferocious fighting going on around and above them. The city is constantly shaken by the hum of explosions, the crackle of mortars and the constant sound of artillery. A potential target anywhere.

Pakmut is in Donetsk province, one of four illegally annexed by Russia in the autumn – but Moscow controls only half of it. To take the remaining half, Russian forces have no choice but to go through Bagmut, which has provided the only approach to major Ukrainian-held cities since Ukrainian troops retook Issium in Kharkiv province in September, says Mykola Beliskov, a research fellow in Ukraine. National Institute for Strategic Studies.

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“Without capturing these cities, the Russian army cannot fulfill its political mission,” Beliskov said.

Bagmut’s deterioration began in the summer After Russia captured the last major city in neighboring Luhansk province. It then poured troops and equipment into capturing Baghmut, and Ukraine did the same to defend it. For Russia, Donetsk is a step toward its goal of annexing the remaining Ukrainian territories.

From trenches outside the city, it turned into a tense standoff as both sides dug in, Ukraine retreated territory to the north and south and Russian airstrikes across the country targeted power plants. and other infrastructure.

Months of war exhausted both armies. In the fall, Russia changed tactics and sent foot soldiers instead of probing the front line mainly with artillery, according to Volochenko.

The less-trained Russians would force the Ukrainians to open fire first, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of their defenses, said Bielieskov, the research associate.

Highly trained units or mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company led by a rogue billionaire and known for its brutality.Build a rear guard, Bielieskov said.

Ukraine makes up for its lack of heavy equipment with people who are ready to stand to the end, Bieliskov said.

“Light weaponry, without adequate artillery support, cannot always provide them, and they stand and hold off attacks as long as possible,” he said.

As a result, both Ukraine and Russia are believed to have suffered terrible troop losses in the war. How deadly is unknown: Neither side is saying.

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“Manpower is less of a Russian problem and, in some ways, a Ukrainian problem, not only because the casualties are painful, but because they are often … Ukraine’s best troops,” said war professor Lawrence Friedman. Studied at King’s College London.

Wagner’s forces recently claimed more than 4,100 dead and 10,000 wounded, including more than 1,000 killed near Bagmut in late November to early December. Cannot verify numbers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a recent speech, described the situation in Pakmut as “extremely difficult”.

“These are continued Russian attacks. Continued attempts to breach our defenses,” he said.

As with the port city of Mariupol in the same province, which Russia captured after an 82-day siege, Ukrainian fighters eventually descended on a giant steel mill along with civilians — Pakmut has acquired an almost mythical significance for its defenders.

“Pakmut has already become a symbol of Ukrainian invincibility,” said Volochenko. “Bakhmut is the heart of Ukraine, and the future peace of cities no longer under occupation depends on its beating rhythm.”

For now, Pakmut is under the control of the Ukrainian military, albeit more of a fortress than a place where people visit, work or love. In January, the Russians captured the town of Soledar, some 20 kilometers (some 12 miles) away, but their progress has been slow, according to military analysts.

“These are rates of progress that do not allow us to talk about serious offensive operations. It is pushed slowly at very high prices,” said Bielieskov.

On the front line on the Ukrainian side, emergency medical units provide emergency care to battlefield casualties. Between 50 and 170 wounded Ukrainian soldiers pass through one of several stabilization points on the Donetsk front line every day, according to Tetiana Ivanchenko, who has volunteered in eastern Ukraine since the Russian-backed separatist conflict began in 2014.

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After its setbacks in Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson province in the south, the Kremlin is hungry for any victory, even if it captures a city or two in ruins. Friedman, a professor emeritus at King’s College London, said the loss of Pakmut would be a blow to Ukraine and would give Russian forces a tactical advantage, but would not be decisive in the end of the war.

Freedman said Russia would have had more value if it had captured the populated and intact Pakhmut earlier in the war, but the capture now would give its forces options on how to capture Donetsk.

On the day Russia launched a full-scale war in Ukraine, a 22-year-old Ukrainian soldier, known as Desichati, or the Tenth. After spending months defending the Pakmut region and losing many comrades, he said he had no regrets.

“It is not about comparing the cost and losses on both sides. It’s about the fact that, yes, Ukrainians are dying, but they’re dying because of a specific goal,” said Desiati, who did not give his real name for security reasons.

“Ukraine has no choice but to protect every inch of its land. The country must defend itself, especially now, with great fervor, with great determination, with desperation. This will help us liberate our occupied territories in the future.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


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