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Russian mercenary fighters claim they are closing in on the center of Bakhmut, but British military experts say the brutal, monthslong combat in and around the eastern Ukrainian city has taken a staggering toll on the invading forces, making it “highly challenging” for the group to maintain its bloody offensive in the near term.
On March 11, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner group of Russian mercenaries, posted a video from what he claimed was a site near the city center.
“This is the building of the town administration,” he said pointing to a building in the distance. “It is one kilometer and 200 meters away.”
Live Briefing: Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine
RFE/RL’s Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia’s full-scale invasion, Kyiv’s counteroffensives, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.
However, he repeated his demand for the Russian military command to provide his group with more ammunition to allow it to “move forward.”
Last month, Prigozhin, considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, accused top armed forces officials of committing “treason” by failing to equip his private troops, who have been a major force in the battle to take Bakhmut, with enough ammunition.
Prigozhin has made claims of battlefield victories in the past, and his most recent remarks could not immediately be verified, although the British Defense Ministry said in its daily update that the Bakhmutka River running through the besieged city “now marks the front line.”
The U.K. ministry said Ukrainian forces still hold the west of the town and have destroyed bridges over the river in an effort to block the Russian fighters’ advance.
“With Ukrainian units able to fire from fortified buildings to the west, this area has become a killing zone, making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westward,” the ministry said.
It warned, though, that “the Ukrainian force and their supply lines to the west remain vulnerable to the continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south.”
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank said Russian forces had made gains in Bakhmut and were clearing eastern parts of the city. It added that the mercenaries had advanced to new positions in the northwest of the city and were within 800 meters of the giant AZOM metal-processing plant.
The think tank said the Wagner group’s apparent goal of taking the plant was likely to lead to a “further wave of Russian casualties.”
Ukrainian and Western military experts have said Russian fighters have suffered near-catastrophic levels of casualties in the long battle for Bakhmut — which U.S. military leaders have said holds little strategic value and mostly indicates Moscow’s desire for a symbolic victory in the face of growing criticism at home.
Ukraine has also suffered heavy losses, although neither side has disclosed up-to-date casualty figures in the conflict, which passed its one-year anniversary in late February.
According to a NATO estimate on March 6, Russia is losing about five times as many troops in the Bakhmut fighting as Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said that more than 28,000 people have volunteered to serve in Ukraine’s Offensive Guard units, which are now nearly fully staffed.
“The units are mostly already formed and today we are recruiting additional volunteers to have a reserve in the future,” Klymenko said on March 11.
The Offensive Guard units, which are expected to be used in an offensive against invading Russian forces, are currently being trained at facilities around the country, Klymenko added.
The Ukrainian General Staff said during its daily briefing on March 11 that the Russian military launched “more than 100 attacks” across the front line in the Donetsk region, including around Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiyivka, and Shakhtarsk,
Russia also reportedly carried out 29 air strikes and four missile strikes in the region over the previous 24 hours, the military said, adding that civilians were injured and civilian infrastructure was damaged.
Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Ukrainian military administration in the southern Kherson region, said three civilians were killed and two injured in the city of Kherson when a Russian shell struck their car.
The reports could not be independently confirmed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address following the Kherson attack that “I would like to support all those cities and communities of ours that are subjected to brutal terrorist attacks by the evil state every day, every night.”
Russia “uses a variety of weapons, but with one goal: to destroy life and leave nothing human behind. Ruins, debris, shell holes in the ground are a self-portrait of Russia.”
Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
Ukraine’s ground forces commander, General Oleksandr Syrskiy, said Ukrainian troops are trying “to buy time for the spring offensive, which is just around the corner.” He said Russia continues to devote resources to the attack on Bakhmut, preventing it from advancing elsewhere.
Throughout Ukraine, Ukrenerho — the national energy company — was working to return power to several regions after Russian missiles and drones hit crucial infrastructure sites. Scheduled blackouts were in place in several cities, including Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.
With reporting by AP and AFP
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