Russia bombards Ukraine’s Bakhmut; sees it as start of new offensive

KYIV: The eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut endured heavy artillery fire on Monday in what the NATO chief said appeared to be the start of a major new Russian offensive as the first anniversary of the war neared.
Ukrainian defenders, who have already held out there for months, were braced for new ground attacks, Ukrainian military officials said.
Positions in Bakhmut have been fortified and only people with a military role were being allowed in, a deputy battalion commander said. Any civilians who still wanted to leave the city would have to brave the incoming fire, he said.
Bakhmut is a prime objective for Russian President Vladimir Putin and its capture would give Russia a new foothold in the Donetsk region and a rare victory after several months of setbacks. Donetsk and Luhansk regions make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland now partially occupied by Russia which wants full control.
“… The reality is we have seen the start (of a Russian offensive) already because we see now what Russia does now – President Putin does now – is to send thousands and thousands more troops, accepting a very high rate of casualty,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.
The Russian assault on Bakhmut has been spearheaded by mercenaries of the Wagner group, who have made small but steady gains. The renewed Russian bombardments made the situation there even more acute.
“The city, the city’s suburbs, the entire perimeter, and essentially the entire Bakhmut direction and Kostyantynivka are under crazy, chaotic shelling,” said Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Svoboda battalion.Nazarenko said that although no fighting was taking place in the city centre right now, the defenders were prepared to meet any assault.
“The city is a fortress, every position and every street there, almost every building, is a fortress,” he said.
The Russian defence ministry said its troops had pushed forward a few kilometres along the frontlines, without specifying exactly where.
The Ukrainian military reported Russian shelling all along the frontline and said 16 settlements had been bombarded near Bakhmut.
It said that over the past day, its forces had repelled a number of attacks near Bakhmut as well as assaults in Kharkiv, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Russian forces had attacked Bilogorivka from all sides before dawn on Monday.
Regarding the Russian offensive, he said: “Preparations for this offensive are already under way, the amount of shelling, air strikes and attacks by small groups has already increased. We are waiting for them to start massive round-the-clock attacks.”
Reuters was not able to independently verify the battlefield reports. –Agencies