The battle rages for control of Bakhmout, in eastern Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accusing Russia of sending its men en masse to certain death for the sole purpose of seizing this symbolic locality.
In Russia, the army for its part reported having shot down several Ukrainian drones which targeted civilian infrastructure, without causing any damage. For the first time, one of them crashed in the Moscow region.
On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his daily address, said that "the greatest difficulties, as before, are in Bakhmut (...) Russia does not count its men at all, sending them constantly attacking our positions. The intensity of the fighting is only increasing".
Despite a strategic importance disputed by experts, Bakhmout has become a symbol of the struggle for control of the industrial region of Donbass. Mr. Zelensky, who went there in December, had sworn to defend this fortress city “as long as possible”.
"The situation around Bakhmout is extremely tense," the commander of the Ukrainian land forces, Oleksandre Syrsky, had noted earlier in the day, quoted by the official press center of the army.
According to him, the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, on the front line in this battle, is trying to "break through the defense of our troops and encircle the city".
Wagner's boss, Evguéni Prigojine, has claimed in turn in recent weeks the capture of localities around Bakhmout. Soledar fell in January, then Krasna Gora in February, and Saturday Yaguidné, located at the gates of the city.
As a result of this slow Russian push, three of the four routes allowing the Ukrainians to supply Bakhmout have been cut off, leaving only the one leading west towards Chassiv Iar, south of which the Russians are also trying to advance. .
Bakhmout, which had 70,000 inhabitants before the war, was largely destroyed by the fighting which caused heavy casualties on both sides. Some 4,000 civilians remain there despite the danger, taking refuge in basements and shelters, according to Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General.
“Very few humanitarian organizations and volunteers are (currently) in the area, and most of the townspeople therefore depend mainly on supplies from previous humanitarian distributions,” he warned.
Mr. Zelensky had acknowledged Monday evening that the situation around Bakhmout was becoming "more and more complicated" for the Ukrainian soldiers, who described scenes reminiscent of those of the First World War.
Ukrainian soldiers interviewed by AFP in Bakhmout on Monday said they were keeping their spirits up. "We can't know the whole operational situation but we are here, we didn't run away," said a 44-year-old soldier whose nom de guerre is "Kaï".
"Not only Bakhmut but Crimea and everything else: we will get everything back," added "Died", 45, as he drew on a cigarette.
"Fox", 40, is more pessimistic: "I understand what country we are fighting against (...) They have smart people there, people who know how to fight. They think, they learn, from same way as us.
"I think Bakhmout will probably fall," he said, citing a lack of ammunition and manpower on the Ukrainian side.
Russia for its part claimed that a Ukrainian drone crashed on Tuesday about a hundred kilometers from Moscow, not far from a gas compressor station. Three others were shot elsewhere in the country, without causing any damage.
Several incidents involving drones have occurred in recent months on Russian territory, sometimes very far from the front in Ukraine, but this is the first time that a drone has been reported near the capital.
03/01/2023 04:06:52 - Kiev (Ukraine) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP