City of Bakhmut ‘destroyed’ as Russia grinds on in eastern Ukraine

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Russian forces have “destroyed” the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, while Ukraine’s military reported missile, rocket and air strikes in multiple parts of the country.

The latest battles of Russia’s nine-and-a-half-month war in Ukraine have centred on four provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally claimed to have annexed in late September.

The fighting indicates Moscow’s struggle to establish control of the regions and Ukraine’s determination to reclaim them.

Mr Zelensky said the situation “remains very difficult” in several frontline cities in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

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Ukrainian servicewomen pose for a photo with Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP)

“Bakhmut, Soledar, Maryinka, Kreminna. For a long time, there is no living place left on the land of these areas that have not been damaged by shells and fire,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

“The occupiers actually destroyed Bakhmut, another Donbas city that the Russian army turned into burnt ruins.”

He did not specify what he meant by “destroyed”, and some buildings remained standing and residents were seen in city streets.

The Ukrainian General Staff reported missile attacks, about 20 air strikes and more than 60 rocket attacks across Ukraine between Friday and Saturday.

Spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said the most active fighting was in the Bakhmut district, where more than 20 populated places came under fire.

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Stretchers outside a hospital in Bakhmut (LIBKOS/AP)

Russia’s grinding eastern offensive succeeded in capturing almost all of Luhansk during the summer. Donetsk eluded the same fate, and the Russian military in recent weeks has poured manpower and resources around Bakhmut in an attempt to encircle the city, analysts and Ukrainian officials have said.

After Ukrainian forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson nearly a month ago, the battle heated up around Bakhmut, demonstrating Mr Putin’s desire for visible gains after weeks of clear setbacks.

Taking Bakhmut would rupture Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press on towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

Russia has battered Bakhmut with rockets for more than half of the year. A ground assault accelerated after its troops forced the Ukrainians to withdraw from Luhansk in July.

But some analysts have questioned Russia’s strategic logic in the relentless pursuit to take Bakhmut and surrounding areas.

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A damaged building in Avdiivka, Donetsk (LIBKOS/AP)

On Friday, Mr Putin lashed out at recent comments by former German chancellor Angela Merkel, who said a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine negotiated by France and Germany had bought time for Ukraine to prepare for war with Russia this year.

That deal aimed to cool tensions after pro-Russia separatists seized territory in the Donbas a year earlier, sparking a war with Ukrainian forces that ballooned into a war with Russia itself after the February 24 invasion.

Ukraine’s military on Saturday also reported strikes in other provinces: Kharkiv and Sumy in the north east, central Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia in the south east and Kherson in the south.

The latter two, along with Donetsk and Luhansk, are the four regions Mr Putin claims are now Russian territory.

In Odesa, a key Black Sea port city to the west, drone attacks overnight left much of its region without electricity, local government head Maxim Marchenko said.

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