(Reuters) – Despite a recent slackening in fighting in Bakhmut, clashes around the shattered town in eastern Ukraine continue and Moscow is suffering heavy casualties, Kyiv’s armed forces said on Sunday.
Ukraine’s military high command said in its daily report on Sunday that Russian forces conducted two unsuccessful operations around Bakhmut and launched a number of airstrikes and artillery fire on nearby villages.
The leader of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group said on Saturday that 99% of its fighters had left Bakhmut after their months-long assault in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
Ukraine said late last month that fighting had eased in the region, but the country’s ground forces commander, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces were continuing their fight there.
“The enemy continues to suffer heavy losses in the direction of Bakhmut,” Syrskyi said on the Telegram messaging app after what he described as a visit to troops around Bakhmut. “The defense forces continue to fight. We will win.”
Reuters could not independently verify the information.
Bakhmut, once home to 70,000 people, has no strategic value, military analysts say. But Moscow said capturing it would be a springboard to advance deeper into the industrial Donbass region, which it claims to have annexed to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy compared the destruction of Bakhmut to the US atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima in Japan during World War II.
The Ukrainian daily reported on Sunday that some 23 clashes had taken place over the past day in the Donetsk region, home to Bakhmut, and the neighboring Luhansk region, which together form Donbass.
Britain’s defense intelligence said on Saturday that Russia was continuing to redeploy regular military units to the Bakhmut sector, replacing Wagner fighters.
Zelenskiy said in an interview published on Saturday that his forces were ready to launch the long-awaited counteroffensive to reclaim territory now occupied by Russia.
kyiv hopes the counteroffensive will change the dynamics of the war that has raged since Russia invaded its smaller neighbor 15 months ago.
Russia now controls almost all of Donetsk and Luhansk regions as well as parts of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)