Battle of Bakhmut

Battle in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

48°35′42″N 38°00′00″E / 48.5950°N 38.0000°E / 48.5950; 38.0000Coordinates: 48°35′42″N 38°00′00″E / 48.5950°N 38.0000°E / 48.5950; 38.0000Status OngoingBelligerents
  •  Ukraine
Commanders and leaders Russia Aleksey Nagin [1] Ukraine Oleksandr Tarnavskiy[2]
Ukraine Yurii Bereza[3]
Ukraine Andriy Mikheichenko[4]Units involved PMC Wagner[5]
 Russian Armed Forces
Donetsk People's Republic Donetsk People's Militia[6]

 Ukrainian Armed Forces

National Guard of Ukraine

  • 4 БрОП.png 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade[17]
Casualties and losses Unknown, presumed heavy Unknown, presumed heavy[18] 120+ civilians killed[19]
  • v
  • t
  • e
2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
Kyiv offensive

Northeastern Ukraine campaign

Eastern Ukraine campaign
Donbas offensive
Eastern Ukrainian counteroffensive

Southern Ukraine campaign
Southern Ukrainian counteroffensive

Other regions
Naval war
Spillover and cross-border incidents
Resistance

Possibly related

The Battle of Bakhmut is an ongoing series of military engagements near the city of Bakhmut between Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Russian Armed Forces during the battle for Donbas in 2022. Shelling of Bakhmut began in May 2022, but the main assault towards the city began on 1 August after Russian forces pushed in from the Popasna area after the Ukrainian forces withdrew from the city.[20] The main assault force primarily consists of mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group, supported by regular Russian troops and DPR and LPR separatist elements.[6][21][5]

As of late 2022, following Ukraine's Kharkiv and Kherson counteroffensives, the Bakhmut front was one of the few front lines in Ukraine where Russia remained on the offensive.[22] Attacks on the city intensified in November 2022 as assaulting Russian forces were reinforced by units redeployed from the Kherson front, together with newly mobilized recruits.[23][24] By this time, much of the front line had descended into positional trench warfare, with both sides suffering high casualties without any significant advances.[25]

Prelude

Apartment bloc in Bakhmut after a Russian bombing. The city has been under shelling since May.[26]

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, a key Russian goal was to capture the Donbas region, consisting of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Following the battles of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in early July, Russia and separatist forces captured all of Luhansk oblast, and the battlefield shifted towards the cities of Sloviansk, Bakhmut, and Soledar. Prior to the battle in Bakhmut, Ukrainian Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskiy claimed that Russia held a five-to-one manpower advantage over Ukraine along the eastern front.[27]

Starting on 17 May, Russian forces began shelling Bakhmut, killing five people including a two-year-old child.[28][29] After the fall of Popasna on 22 May, Ukrainian forces withdrew away from the city to reinforce positions at Bakhmut.[20] Meanwhile, Russian forces managed to advance on the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway, endangering the remaining Ukrainian troops in the Lysychansk-Sievierodonetsk area.[30][31] The Russian checkpoint along the highway was later demolished, although fighting resumed on 30 May along the Kostiantynivka-Bakhmut highway, where Ukrainian forces successfully defended the highway.[32][33]

Shelling of Bakhmut continued throughout the rest of June and July, escalating after the battle of Siversk began on 3 July.[34] On 25 July, Ukrainian forces withdrew from the Vuhlehirska Power Station, along with the nearby town of Novoluhanske, giving Russian and separatist forces a "small tactical advantage" towards Bakhmut.[35] Two days later on 27 July, Russian shelling of Bakhmut killed three civilians and wounded three more.[36][37]

Battle

Ukrainian trench during the battle, November 2022

On 1 August, Russian forces launched massive ground attacks on settlements south and southeast of Bakhmut. Both the Russian Ministry of Defense and pro-Russian Telegram pages claimed that the battle of Bakhmut had begun.[38][39] The following day, Ukraine reported that Russian forces had ramped up airstrikes and shelling of the city, beginning a ground attack on the southeastern part of the city.[40] On 4 August, Wagner Group mercenaries managed to break through Ukrainian defenses and reach Patrice Lumumba street, on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut.[41]

In the following days, Russian forces continued to push towards Bakhmut from the south, with the Ukrainian general staff stating on 14 August that Russian forces had achieved "partial success" near Bakhmut, but offering no specifics.[42]

Night shelling in the city center on 21 September burned the Martynov Palace of Culture, where the humanitarian headquarters worked. During the extinguishing of the fire, the local fire department was shelled, which reported that two SES staff were injured and equipment damaged.[43] At night, a five-story building was partially destroyed by Russian shelling.[44][45]

On 7 October, Russian forces advanced into the villages of Zaitseve and Opytne on the southern and southeastern outskirts of Bakhmut, while on 10 October, the UK Defence Ministry claimed that Russian troops advanced closer to Bakhmut.[46][47] On 12 October, Russian forces claimed to have captured Opytne, located 3km south of Bakhmut, and Ivanhrad, although these towns were still contested.[48] Ukrainian sources said a minor counteroffensive on 24 October pushed Russian forces from some factories on the eastern outskirts of the city.[49]

By early November, the fighting around Bakhmut had descended into trench warfare conditions, with neither side making any significant breakthroughs and hundreds of casualties reported daily amid fierce shelling and artillery duels.[16][25] On 1 November, Ukrainian journalist Yurii Butusov described the evolving nature of the battle in an interview. Butusov noted that Russian forces had suffered "huge losses every day" assaulting Bakhmut and its outskirts since early May, but insisted that they were adapting their tactics against increasingly exhausted Ukrainian defenders. He noted that the Russians were concentrating multiple small groups of infantry to break defense lines on "narrow" sections of the front.[50]

Ukrainian soldier in a trench near Bakhmut, November 2022

Russian forces breached defense lines along Bakhmut's southern flank, capturing the villages of Andriivka, Ozarianivka, and Zelenopillia, and making minor advances in Opytne through 28–29 November.[51][52] Wagner troops attacked Kurdyumivka, adjacent to Ozarianivka, with some Russian milbloggers claiming the settlement was captured.[53] Russian forces also attacked Ukrainian positions southeast of Bakhmut.[54][55] On 3 December, Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Eastern Command, described the Bakhmut front as "the most bloody, cruel and brutal sector ... in the Russian-Ukrainian war so far," adding that the Russians had conducted 261 artillery attacks in the past day alone.[56] The same day, a Georgia military volunteer told the media that a group of Georgian volunteers had been surrounded during clashes near Bakhmut. The commander was wounded and five or six volunteers, serving in Ukraine's 57th Brigade, had been killed, prompting Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili to express condolences.[10] On 6–7 December, the Russian defense ministry claimed that their forces, including Wagner fighters, had successfully repelled Ukrainian counterattacks south of Bakhmut.[57]

On 9 December, President Zelenskyy accused Russia of "destroying" Bakhmut, calling it "another Donbas city that the Russian army turned into burnt ruins." Former soldier and eyewitness to the battle Petro Stone called the Bakhmut front a "meat grinder," saying the Russians were "covering Bakhmut with fire 24/7".[58] Soldiers of Ukraine's 24th Mechanized Brigade recounted recent battlefield engagements to media, such as one multi-day firefight with 50 Russian troops dug into a treeline where in some places "we were only 100 metres apart." Ukrainian soldiers claimed that front line Russian troops often attacked with little tank support, with Wagner PMC fighters serving as the main assault troops and under-equipped mobiks (recently mobilized Russian recruits) holding defensive positions. One Ukrainian artillerymen alleged that "80 percent" of the remaining civilian population, surviving in basements and supplied by mobile grocery trucks that periodically enter the city, was pro-Russian.[9][59]

On 11–13 December, Russian sources claimed that Wagner fighters had breached defenses in east Bakhmut, occupying the northern section of Fyodor Maksimenko Street and having advanced along Patrice Lumumba street in the industrial zone, fully capturing the Siniat ALC factory and sparkling wine/"artwinery" plant. On the outskirts, Wagner also purportedly stormed Pidhorodne, located on Bakhmut's northeastern flank, and made minor advances amid heavy fighting in Opytne, on the southern approach to Bakhmut.[60][61] The claims of Russian advances were not independently verified at the time, but the Ukrainian General Staff confirmed clashes in Bakhmutske, Soledar, and Pidhorodne, though it claimed it repelled all assaults. On 11 December a railway bridge over the E40 (M-03) highway north of Bakhmut was destroyed; the Russians accused the Ukrainians of demolishing it to hamper future Russian advances towards Sloviansk.[62][63][64] By 13 December, Russian sources claimed that proper urban street fighting had begun in the eastern and southeastern sectors of Bakhmut, particularly along Pershotravnevyy avenue up to Dobroliubova street, while also claiming that 90% Opytne had been captured amid fierce Ukrainian resistance. The Ukrainian General Staff said they successfully repelled assaults northeast and south of Bakhmut from the Soledar and Kurdiumivka directions, respectively.[65][66][67][68]

Casualties

Due to the fog of war and deliberately unpublished casualty figures from both sides, the true number of military and civilian casualties due to the battle is unknown. Casualties can be presumed to be heavy, though, as the cost of battlefield conditions unseen since the First and Second World Wars is bound to be steep. Western media outlets estimated hundreds of civilians and military from both sides killed and wounded each day.[69]

Military casualties

On 10 November, the Ukrainians claimed that the Wagner group had suffered nearly 140 casualties in the last 24 hours, including over 40 men killed, in fighting near Bakhmut.[70] On 27 November, The New York Times reported a high level of casualties for both armies, also placing the number of Ukrainian wounded at 290 in the previous 36 hours.[71]

In early December the Ukrainian government estimated that 50-100 Russian soldiers were killed in the Bakhmut sector each day.[72]

Civilian casualties

By 5 November, the deputy mayor of Bakhmut claimed that over 120 civilians had been killed in the city proper.[73] By early December, only between 7,000 and 15,000 of Bakhmut's prewar population of 80,000 remained in the city.[74][75]

Analysis

The battle of Bakhmut has been described as one of the bloodiest battles of the 21st century, with the battlefield being described as a "meat grinder" and a "vortex" for both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries.[76][77] With extremely high casualties, costly ground assaults with very little ground gained, and shell-pocked landscapes, volunteers, media, and government officials alike compared fighting in Bakhmut to battlefield conditions on the western front of World War I.[78][79] Retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Andrew Milburn, the leader of a foreign volunteer group in Ukraine called the Mozart Group and an eyewitness to the battle, compared conditions in the Bakhmut countryside to Passchendaele and the city itself to Dresden in World War II.[80]

Russian assault forces have primarily composed of Wagner Group mercenaries, reinforcements from other front lines in Ukraine, and newly–mobilized recruits the Ukrainians refer to as mobiks.[59] Some observers likened Russian tactics to Soviet-style human wave attacks, repeatedly assaulting Ukrainian positions with waves of infantry,[59] while some Ukrainian soldiers alleged that Wagner used its recruited ex–convicts as first wave "human bait" to reveal Ukrainian positions.[81][82] Russia has also targeted Bakhmut with Iranian made drones after 450 of them were sent to Russia in mid-October.[83] The Ukrainian defenders consist of a "hodgepodge of units", consisting of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade and the 58th Motorized Brigade, who were later reinforced by many other units–including special forces and territorial defense units–in order to fill in gaps caused by heavy casualties.[76][24][16]

The overall strategic value of Bakhmut has been considered dubious by many analysts, observing that the resources and lives Russia has spent assaulting the city far outweigh its importance.[84] The UK defence ministry insisted capturing Bakhmut would only be a "symbolic" victory for Russia rather than a strategic one.[85] Konrad Muzyka, and expert on Russian security Mark Galeotti, argued that Russia's costly assault is a matter of preserving prestige and sunk cost fallacy–that Russian forces had already expended so much manpower in the war effort on other fronts that it "may as well do everything they can" to seize the city.[84] Retired Ukrainian colonel Serhiy Grabskiy suggested Wagner Group was seeking glory in capturing Bakhmut, as leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is poised to reap significant monetary and political rewards if Wagner captures the city on behalf of the Russian government.[22] Prighozhin himself had previously suggested Wagner was deliberately turning Bakhmut into a "meat grinder" to inflict heavy attritional casualties on Ukrainian forces.[86]

References

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