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Ukraine says battle for Bakhmut continues in the outskirts of the city

Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut
Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut Copyright Efrem Lukatsky/AP
Copyright Efrem Lukatsky/AP
By Euronews with AP
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Bakhmut may have fallen into Russian hands but Ukrainian forces are still holding the line and striking back, as fighting moves to the city flanks.

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Russian forces declared victory in the eastern city last month after the longest, deadliest battle since their full-scale invasion of Ukraine began 15 months ago.

But Ukrainian defenders aren't retreating.

Instead, they are keeping up the pressure and continuing the fight from positions on the western fringes of Bakhmut.

"The war continues and it will continue," said Oleh Shiryaev, a Ukrainian combat unit commander. "That is, we will advance along the flanks. I can say for myself, and I can answer for my unit, that we are advancing, carrying out the combat tasks assigned to us by the higher command. Everything is slowly coming together."

The pushback gives commanders in Moscow another thing to think about ahead of a much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive that appears to be taking shape. 

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar on Thursday said Russia sought to create the impression of calm around Bakhmut, but, in fact, artillery shelling still goes on at levels similar to those at the height of the battle to take the city.

Libkos/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
A Ukrainian soldier sits in a trench at the frontline near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Friday, May 26, 2023Libkos/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

From the Kremlin's perspective, the area around Bakhmut is just part of the more than 1,000-kilometer  front line that the Russian military must hold.

That task could be made more difficult by the withdrawal of the Wagner Group mercenaries, who helped take control of the city. They will be replaced with Russian soldiers.

Russia had envisioned the capture of Bakhmut as partial fulfilment of its ambition to seize control of the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, but paid a very high human cost in capturing the city.

Any Ukrainian action that loosens its grip on the Donetsk town would be a major military and political embarrassment for the Kremlin.   

Now its forces have been compelled to regroup, rotate fighters and rearm just to hold the city.

The fate of Bakhmut, which lays largely in ruins, has been overshadowed in recent days by near-nightly attacks on Kyiv, a series of unclaimed drone strikes near Moscow, and the growing anticipation that Ukraine's government will try to regain ground.

But the battle for the city could still have a lingering impact. Moscow has made the most of its capture, epitomized by triumphalism in Russian media.

Any slippage of Russia’s grip would be a political embarrassment for President Vladimir Putin.

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