The Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is under increased pressure as Russian troops close in after having almost totally surrounded it, according to media reports and British intelligence.
There is “intense fighting taking place in and around the city” in the eastern region of Donetsk, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence analysis published on Twitter on Saturday.
Russian troops — bolstered by mercenaries working for the Wagner Group private military company — achieved further advances in the northern suburbs of the city, according to the U.K. analysis. Two major bridges in Bakhmut have been destroyed in the last 36 hours, making it harder for Ukrainian soldiers to move in and out of the city, it said.
The Associated Press reported on Saturday that Ukrainian troops were helping the civilian population to evacuate Bakhmut. People are now forced to flee on foot as moving by vehicles has become too dangerous, it said. The news agency described Ukrainian troops building a pontoon bridge to aid the evacuation effort.
In a video that appeared on social media on Friday, Evgeny Prigozhin who leads the Wagner Group, called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to order Ukrainian forces to leave the city. “The Wagner Group has essentially surrounded the city,” Prigozhin said, from a rooftop that Reuters located in a village north of Bakhmut. “The pincers are closing,” he said.
Bakhmut, in the eastern Donetsk region, has been one of Russia’s key targets for the past seven months. Capturing the city would help Moscow inch closer to controlling the whole Donbas region. Taking Bakhmut would also carry symbolic meaning as the first major Russian victory since President Vladimir Putin started a partial mobilization of military reservists in September 2022.