By Reuters and published by Cyprus Mail
Kyiv/Kostiantynivka, Ukraine – Moscow acknowledged on Friday (May 12) that its forces had fallen back north of Ukraine’s battlefield city of Bakhmut after a new Ukrainian offensive, in a retreat that the head of Russia’s Wagner private army called a rout.
The setback for Russia, which follows similar reports of Ukrainian advances south of the city, suggests a coordinated push by Kyiv to encircle Russian forces in Bakhmut, Moscow’s main objective for months during the war’s bloodiest fighting.
It means both sides are now reporting the biggest Ukrainian gains in six months, although Ukraine has given few details and played down suggestions a huge, long-planned counteroffensive has officially begun.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukraine had launched an assault north of Bakhmut with more than 1,000 troops and up to 40 tanks, a scale that if confirmed would amount to the biggest Ukrainian offensive since November.
The Russians had repelled 26 attacks but troops in one area had fallen back to regroup in more favourable positions near the Berkhivka reservoir northwest of Bakhmut, Konashenkov said.
In a separate video message, Prigozhin said the Ukrainians had seized high ground overlooking Bakhmut and opened the main highway leading into the city from the West.
“The loss of the Berkhivka reservoir – the loss of this territory they gave up – that’s 5 sq km, just today,” Prigozhin said.
“The enemy has completely freed up the Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut road which we had blocked. The enemy is now able to use this road, and secondly they have taken tactical high ground under which Bakhmut is located,” said Prigozhin, who has repeatedly denounced Russia’s regular military over the past week for failing to supply his men in Bakhmut.
Russian-installed officials said two missiles hit an industrial complex in Luhansk, in Russian-occupied territory around 100 km (60 miles) behind the front. Video posted on the internet showed huge columns of smoke above the city. The strike, just beyond the range of the main battlefield rockets Ukraine has previously deployed, came a day after Britain announced it was sending longer-range cruise missiles.
The Ukrainian advance near Bakhmut appears to have begun on Tuesday when a Ukrainian unit southwest of the city said it defeated a Russian brigade, recapturing a swathe of land. Prigozhin also said the Russian brigade there fled.
Reuters has not been able to independently verify the situation in the area.
Ukraine typically withholds comment on its offensive operations and omits them from its regular updates while they are under way; the military command has said its troops pushed forward about 2 km (1.2 miles) near Bakhmut, but has given no details. In its nightly report on Friday, it described fighting in Bakhmut and Russian shelling of nearby towns, but made no mention of any advance or Russian withdrawal.
Prigozhin, whose fighters have been battling to push Ukrainian forces out of Bakhmut’s Western outskirts, has said the north and south flanks, guarded by regular Russian troops, were crumbling. Russia’s defence ministry denies this.
In his nightly address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Russians were “already internally ready for defeat”.
“They have already lost this war in their minds. We must put pressure on them every day so that their sense of defeat turns into their flight, their mistakes, their losses.”
“It hit the roof and the roof collapsed. My neighbour rushed outside and started shouting, asking for help,” said Oleksandr Lazorka, who lives next door. “We pulled out a blind woman – an elderly, blind woman – from under the rubble and then the fire erupted.”
The 15-month-old war in Ukraine is at a turning point, after six months during which Kyiv kept its troops on the defensive while Russia mounted a winter campaign that brought the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two but yielded scant gains.
Since the start of this year, Kyiv has received hundreds of new Western tanks and armoured vehicles, holding them back in preparation for a counteroffensive to recapture occupied territory.
Ukrainian officials have played down the suggestion that their offensive is already under way: Zelenskiy said in an interview this week Kyiv needed more time for equipment to arrive. Prigozhin called that deceptive and said the Bakhmut advances amounted to the start of Kyiv’s campaign.
Moscow has been preparing since last autumn for an expected onslaught, and has built lines of anti-tank fortifications along hundreds of miles of front.
It has begun evacuating civilians from areas near the front line in Ukraine’s partially occupied Zaporizhzhia province.
“We used to go out and watch (the shelling). Especially at night, you could see the flashes as they launch,” said Lyudmila, a 22-year-old in makeshift accommodation in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian port of Berdyansk. “We’ve had shells land nearby and when it landed the entire sky was red,” she said.
Top: Ukrainian service members from a 110th Separate Mechanised Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, prepare to fire a self-propelled howitzer “Dana”, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near the town of Avdiivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine on May 9, 2023. Photo: Reuters /Sofiia Gatilova/stringer and published by Colorado Springs Gazette
First insert: A Ukrainian soldier fires the howitzer at the Russian positions on the frontline near Kremenna, Luhansk region, Ukraine, on April 5, 2023. Photo: Roman Chop via AP and published by CNA
Second insert: We still need a bit more time’ before launching the counter-offensive, said Zelenskiy Photo: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service /AFP/Handout and published by CNA
Front Page: Since Russia invaded, Kyiv has received more than $150 billion in aid, including $65 billion in military assistance Photo: AFP/Sergey Shestak and published by CNA
(By Olena Harmash and Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey)