Russia pounds supply lines around Bakhmut as Ukraine reports advances
By Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey
NEAR BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) -Russian troops are pounding supply lines near the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut to try to halt advances by Ukraine's military, according to soldiers near the front line.
Ukraine reported new territorial gains on Thursday in heavy fighting on the flanks of the eastern city of Bakhmut, their latest advances in what appears to be a shift of momentum in the area after a months-long Russian offensive.
Set back from the city known by both sides as the "meat grinder" because of the ferocity of fighting, soldiers with an anti-aircraft unit monitored the battlefield on tablets as the sound of shelling rumbled near their positions.
"Now, for the most part, as we have started to advance, (the Russians) are shelling all the routes to the front positions, so our armoured vehicles can't deliver more infantry, ammunition and other things," said Petro Podaru, the unit's commander.
In the past week, Kyiv has said it has stepped up pressure on Moscow's forces to the north and south of Bakhmut but that Russia has continued to send in more troops including paratroopers.
"The enemy conducts (air) reconnaissance daily. They fly very often," said a Ukrainian soldier with the call sign Barber.
"This time, at this moment, they're bringing in more Lancets (Russian military drones). We try to work, we try to detect them, and, of course, we're trying to destroy them."
The anti-aircraft unit said its location could not be disclosed for security reasons.
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield situation.
Moscow sees Bakhmut, a city of about 70,000 before Russia's full-scale invasion nearly 15 months ago, as a possible stepping stone towards capturing the rest of the eastern Donbas region.
Russia's Wagner mercenary group, which is spearheading the Russian assault in Bakhmut, says it has moved forward inside the city, and Kyiv has acknowledged those small gains.
But Kyiv has for days been hailing battlefield successes around the city that could eventually trap the Wagner forces inside the city.
"Wagner climbed into Bakhmut like rats into a mousetrap", General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine's ground forces, said this week.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin accused regular Russian army units on Thursday of pulling back 570 metres north of Bakhmut, leaving his own fighters' flanks exposed.
"Unfortunately, units of the Russian Defence Ministry have withdrawn up to 570 metres to the north of Bakhmut, exposing our flanks," Prigozhin said in a voice message. "Please do not give up the flanks."
(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Timothy Heritage)