From The Wall Street Journal:
BAKHMUT, Ukraine—Russian shells slammed closer and closer as Ludmyla Bondarenko and Zoya Shilkova, clad in fur coats atop layers of clothing, sat on a bench outside their apartment block, chatting and getting some fresh air on a frigid afternoon in what remains of this eastern Ukrainian city.
At an intersection nearby, Ukrainian troops used a crane to emplace concrete slabs, fortifying the neighborhood. Three freshly arrived tanks roared by, blue-and-yellow flags fluttering from their turrets. A distant staccato of machine-gun fire could be heard amid the thumps of artillery.
“We’re so used to it by now, we no longer pay much attention,” Ms. Bondarenko, 76, said as she pointed to a nearby crater left by a Russian shell in the morning. “It’s been going on for months. When is it going to end?”
“It’s probably never going to end,” replied Ms. Shilkova, 75.
Their apartments have had no heating, power or running water for months. The only available food comes from volunteers. “It’s a humanitarian catastrophe. That’s how we live,” Ms. Bondarenko said.
Russian soldiers and fighters from the Wagner private military company have been fighting to capture Bakhmut, a town of 70,000 people that was best known for its sparkling wines before the war, for nearly six months now.
Daily Russian pounding has turned the once-elegant city center into a succession of obliterated facades, with debris strewn on the streets amid freshly dug-out trenches and antitank barriers.
The Russians reached the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut in early July, in the wake of their last successful offensive, the seizure of nearby Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. The tide of war has dramatically turned in Kyiv’s favor elsewhere in the country since then, as Ukrainian forces ousted Russian troops from vast areas of the Kharkiv, Donetsk and, last month, Kherson regions.
Now, Bakhmut has become the war’s main battlefield, with Ukraine and Russia alike pouring in troops, tanks and artillery, in a concentration of firepower rarely seen since the invasion began 10 months ago. Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has recruited tens of thousands of criminals in Russian prisons for the storming of Bakhmut. Moscow has also sent some of the 300,000 new troops mobilized since October.
The future of Bakhmut is vital for Mr. Prigozhin, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin who criticized regular Russian military commanders as inept, touted Wagner as the country’s best fighting force and secured access to Russian prisoners and generous state funding after promising to capture the Ukrainian city months ago.
The new Russian military commander in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, also has much at stake here. Appointed in early October, Gen. Surovikin justified last month’s withdrawal from Kherson in part by citing the need to use those troops for offensive operations elsewhere.
“Surovikin must show some sort of victory somewhere since his appointment,” said Fedir Venislavskiy, a member of the Ukrainian parliament’s national-security, defense and intelligence committee. “What the Russian military and political leadership desire very much is a capture of Bakhmut. And that’s why both Surovikin and Prigozhin are throwing all their forces at it.”
Ukraine’s calculation is also not purely based on a strictly military rationale. If Bakhmut were to fall, the town of Chasiv Yar on heights just to the west of it could provide a convenient line of defense for the Ukrainian-controlled 40% of the Donetsk region that Russia claims as its own.
“From the military standpoint, Bakhmut doesn’t have strategic significance,” the commander of Ukrainian land forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, said in a Ukrainian TV appearance this month. “But, at the same time, it has psychological significance.”
Indeed, a retreat from Bakhmut would signal Ukraine losing the initiative after four months of steady advances, raising Russian morale and making it harder to pursue further Ukrainian offensives in Donetsk and the nearby Luhansk region. That is why, in the past three weeks, Ukraine has saturated the area with fresh troops and equipment.
Through most of the war, Ukraine usually tried to avoid set-piece battles where both sides concentrate their resources, aware that this type of warfare can play to Russia’s advantages.
“Some of the things that make us strong, such as independence, initiative, the ability to act even when without clear orders, can also become our weaknesses when many units are in the same place, and each has their own view,” said Mykola Volokhov, commander of the Terra drone-reconnaissance unit that, among other Ukrainian forces, was relocated to Bakhmut from the Kherson front this month. “The outcome in Bakhmut will depend on the ability of our forces to achieve coordination.”
Another part of the puzzle is what happens on the Kreminna-Svatove front to the north, where Ukrainian offensive operations have been literally bogged down because of weather that has made unpaved roads impassable. A sustained drop in temperatures, Ukrainian commanders say, could freeze the ground and allow Ukrainian forces to resume their push eastward.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal
TPV isn’t a current events or political blog, but PG thought the beginning of this article was a well-written way of putting the Ukrainian war into more human terms.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, did a masterful job early in the war of putting the invasion into human terms and gaining a great deal of Western sympathy and support for his nation. Zelenskyy personalized the war and has not attempted to disguise the difficult circumstances most of the people in Ukraine are dealing with due to this war.
PG doubts that Ukraine had the ability to remove many of its citizens out of harm’s way and, based on his reading, PG’s perception is that, unlike some other wars, there is nothing like a war zone separate from the general populace.
Hence, in our mind’s eye, we see Ludmyla and Zoya, two elderly women, chatting on a bench while tanks roar past and approaching explosions of Russian artillery shells provide an aural backdrop for their conversation. And we hope nothing bad will happen to them.