Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday that his top generals want to keep fighting for the eastern Donetsk city of Bakhmut, where Russian and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a heavy battle for over eight months.
Zelensky made the comments after meeting with several high-level military officials, including Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces. “They spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut,” Zelensky’s office said in a statement after the meeting.
Earlier in the day, the German tabloid Bild reported that Zaluchny gave different advice a few weeks ago by suggesting a withdrawal from Bakhmut. But Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials decided to hold on.
Some of Ukraine’s Western backers have expressed concern that Ukraine is wasting too many resources in the battle for Balhmut. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Monday that holding the city is more “symbolic” than “strategic.”
Since mid-January, Russian forces have been making gains around Bakhmut and are close to encircling the city, which had a pre-war population of 70,000. Ukrainian forces are taking heavy casualties in the battle, and Ukrainian infantrymen told The Kyiv Independent that they are unprepared for battle and not receiving any support.
The Kyiv Independent spoke with Ukrainian soldiers while they were off the front in Kostiantynivka, a nearby city. The report said that they spoke of “unprepared, poorly-trained battalions being thrown into the front line meat grinder to survive as best they could with little support from armored vehicles, mortars, artillery, drones and tactical information.”
Explaining the lack of supporting fire for the infantrymen, a mortarman explained that they were receiving very little ammunition. “When we get ammo, we get 10 shells per day, 120-millimeter shells. That’s enough for one minute of work,” said Illia, a member of Ukraine’s National Guard. Due to the scarcity of weapons and ammunition, some Ukrainian troops are using mortars dating back to World War II.
Ukrainian soldiers are often sent to the frontline in Bakhmut after receiving very little training. Multiple soldiers told The Kyiv independent that some are barely given enough time to learn how to shoot a rifle and can be deployed to the front after being trained for only two weeks.
Both Ukraine and Russia are keeping a tight lid on casualty numbers, making it difficult to determine how many people are actually being killed in the battle for Bakhmut, but it’s clear Ukraine is taking heavy losses. One combat medic said that when his battalion first came to Bakhmut in December, there were 500 of them. But a month ago, there were only 150 left.
Ukrainian officials are claiming they are inflicting heavy Russian casualties, but it’s not clear how many Russians are dying in the battle. Ukrainian soldiers on the ground are facing off with mercenaries from the Wagner Group and regular Russian troops.