Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that a loss of the city of Bakhmut, currently an epicentre of fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, would provide a major opening to significant further enemy advances on the ground. “We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Slavyansk, it would be [an] open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he stated. Regarding the impacts on Russian morale of a capture of the city, he added that this would help “mobilise their society” and bolster domestic support for the Russian military. Zelensky has continued to order reinforcements for Bakhmut, stating: “I told the chief of staff to find the right troops to help Bakhmut’s people. Any part of Ukraine can be abandoned,” stressing the importance of defending “every region of Ukraine… liberate every city and village in our country.” A number of media outlets, including the German newspaper Bild, have claimed citing Ukrainian government sources that the country’s military leadership have been strongly at odds with the president on the decision to continue to hold and pour more forces into Bakhmut, with personnel and material losses having been extreme.
Reports from the frontlines have widely indicated that Ukrainian forces have been taking unsustainable losses in Bakhmut. Former U.S. Marine Troy Offenbecker, who fought in the International Legion on the frontlines in Bakhmut, summarised regarding the state of affairs for Ukrainian and allied forces there: “a lot of casualties. The life expectancy is around four hours on the frontline.” Clashes were ”chaotic” and were dubbed “the meat grinder” by the Ukrainians, he added, with Russian artillery strikes being “nonstop.” Western media claims of Russian ammunition shortages appeared far removed from the reality of the situation. Former senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Defence U.S. Army Colonel (ret.) Douglas McGregor similarly reported that “the Russians went over to a defensive posture, and they have ground away at the Ukrainians who poured tens of thousands of soldiers into their meat grinder. The Russians have taken very light casualties compared to the Ukrainians, and the Ukrainians have lost most of their capable forces and capable manpower.” With the battle ongoing, Russian forces have continued to make steady gains since late February, with the depletion of Ukraine’s ground forces potentially being a key facilitator of major advances should Bakhmut be taken.