How a small town in the eastern Donbas has been resisting the Russians for half a year

The Russian army has been trying for half a year to take a small town: Bachmut. But despite numerous attacks and the many casualties, the capture is still a long way off. It is yet another example of Russia’s military failure in Ukraine.

Stephen RamdharieDecember 2, 202210:09

The battle in and around the town of Bachmut, which once had a population of 80,000, is constantly mentioned in the military bulletins of Russia and Ukraine. The Russians claim they are advancing in the eastern Donbas, the Ukrainians report that they are holding. There is no more news.

The lack of Russian territorial gains and Moscow’s almost desperate focus on Bachmut has now become the big news. After months of adversity on the Ukrainian battlefield, the Kremlin is yearning for military victory. And so the Russians are willing to pay a high price for the conquest of the town.

It is not known how many killed and wounded the months-long siege has cost. Some reports speak of hundreds of casualties per day on both sides. “A relentless, proliferating and attrition-based battle,” said the US military think tank Institute for the Study of War about the bloody campaign in Donetsk province.

Disrupt supply lines

Footage from the battle shows Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in their trenches, which have turned into mud pits. In the military hospital in the city, Ukrainian wounded are brought in continuously.

“These are circumstances in which the concept of ‘living’ is no longer possible,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted Monday, accompanying a photo of an exhausted soldier showing off his shrapnel vest with bullet holes. Bachmoet occasionally makes world news, such as recently when Dutch photographer Eddy van Wessel captured an injured elderly couple on camera, which attracted a lot of attention.

The capture of Bachmoet, which is located on two important highways, should not only bring the dreamed victory to the Russians. It should also enable the Russian army to disrupt Ukrainian supply lines and then push on to the more important cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.

Wear stroke

If this succeeds, Moscow hopes, the conquest of the entire Donetsk will come closer. The region, which is still half in Ukrainian hands, together with Luhansk forms the Donbas, which was annexed by Russia in September.

The Russian army has been making serious efforts to capture Bachmut since May, including with heavy artillery bombardments. The attacks intensified in July, after the Russians took control of the entire Luhansk region with the capture of the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. The sights were set on Bachmut and nearby villages as a springboard to the conquest of the whole of Donetsk.

But the attacks bogged down a wear and tear that has now lasted for months. At the same time, the Russians also came under military pressure from the successful Ukrainian counter-offensives at Kharkiv and Kherson. Nevertheless, Moscow does not stop the siege of Bachmut. On the contrary.

Mercenaries from the Wagnerian army, leaders of the siege on the city, intensified the shelling. After the loss of southern Kherson last month, the Russian high command directed part of the withdrawn troops towards Bachmut to finally make the capture there possible.

Ukrainian soldiers fire on the Russians on the frontline near Bachmut.  Image AP

Ukrainian soldiers fire on the Russians on the frontline near Bachmut.Image AP

Prestige battle

For Ukraine, the battle for the town and the nearby villages has now become a battle for prestige. Kyiv is keen to make Bachmut yet another example of Russia’s deficient military conduct. The city is also defended by the 1st Presidential Brigade, the soldiers of the National Guard who are responsible for the safety of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In recent days, Russian units have made slight territorial gains 12 kilometers south of Bachmoet. They would also advance slowly from the northeast to the outskirts of Bachmoet. The enormous military force that Russia has been releasing for six months to take the town surprises many military experts. Because even if Bachmut falls, that is no guarantee that the Russians will soon be able to take the other cities in the Donetsk region as well.

“Russian offensives around Bachmut consume a significant portion of Russia’s available combat power,” concludes the Institute for the Study of War. All this allows the continuation of Ukrainian counter-offensives elsewhere. The Russian army has basically not learned the lessons from previous campaigns, which resulted in many casualties.’