Video duration 03 min 13 sec
Ukrainian soldiers defend the eastern industrial town of Bakhmut as separatist forces advance in the war-torn Donetsk region after retaking a string of nearby villages.
Bakhmut — a wine-producing and salt-mining town on the main road from Donetsk to the capital, Kyiv, one day home to 70,000 people — would be a major prize if Russia had any hope of securing the region after its invasion of Ukraine in February.
Intense shelling was audible from the direction of Otradovka, Veselaya Dolina and Zaitsevo, which now appear to be in the hands of forces loyal to the now-annexed Donetsk People’s Republic.
A Ukrainian artillery commander named Sarhi told Al Jazeera that Ukrainian soldiers were in Bakhmut because it was a “key point”.
“Our task is to destroy the places where there is a concentration of manpower and batteries of firing positions,” he said.
Explosions rang out in the empty streets of Bakhmut as Ukrainian forces patrolled.
Another Ukrainian soldier, Nikolai, said the Russians were “throwing all their forces into the town”.
“Artillery, air power and even helicopters are attacking our positions,” Nikolai said. “They are trying to approach during the night and during the day. They are elite units and mercenaries. There are no regular Russian soldiers left.”
“Deadly Hide and Seek Game”
In recent weeks, the Ukrainian military has put pressure on Russian forces across the front lines in the south and east, including in parts of Donetsk. Western weapons have helped the Ukrainian army reclaim more territory in the last month than Russian forces captured in five months.
However, the defense of Bakhmut remains one of the biggest challenges facing Ukraine on the eastern front line.
In a report from Bakhmut, Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford described the situation as a “fatal game of hide and seek” with both sides launching attacks.
Pointing to a loaded cannon targeting Russian artillery and supply positions 30 kilometers (12 miles) behind Bakhmut, Stratford said, “The projectile takes about 40 seconds to reach its target. The trajectory is adjusted after receiving information from drones and observers monitoring the target area.”
The Russian bombing of Bakhmut has continued for weeks, forcing most people to flee.
“The bombing never stops,” said a woman from the town. “I stay here to take care of my mother. She is old and weak. Things have gotten so bad.”
“How can we leave?”
The people of Bakhmut who are left behind are trying to stock up on meager supplies of food and water before the next battle.
Igor Maksimenko’s water barrel caused a leak as he fell from his wire wagon, but he managed to correct it, and he resolved to bring it to an apartment building still inhabited by 25 people.
“They are sometimes [Russian-backed forces] A fire really close by, right next to that store, right above our heads, and the shrapnel mixed with the spray of dirt everywhere,” he said. “But we still kept pulling it up. How do we leave? to where?”
Ukraine made lightning-fast territorial gains in the east and south. On September 30, Ukrainian forces advanced from the captured town of Izyum, surrounded the strategic town of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region and captured it the next day after the withdrawal of Russian forces.
The advance of Ukrainian forces undermined the Kremlin’s claim last week to formally annex Donetsk, neighboring Luhansk, and the southern regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson.
The four regions form a crucial land corridor between Russia and Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and together they make up about 20 percent of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of the Russian army’s reservists last month to reinforce troops on the front lines in Ukraine.
Under increasing pressure from his supporters and others, Putin continued to adjust the leadership of his army. State news agency TASS reported that a new commander had been appointed to the eastern Russian military district.
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