Russian forces pressed their offensive in eastern Ukraine as they attempted to encircle the small mining city of Bakhmut, the scene of the toughest fighting in battlefields saturated by rain and an early spring thaw.
Russia is trying to cut the Ukrainian defenders’ vulnerable supply lines into the city and force them to surrender or withdraw. That would give Moscow its first major prize in more than half a year, and open the way to the capture of the last remaining urban centres in Donetsk region.
“The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions for fortification and defence. Our soldiers defending the area around Bakhmut are true heroes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday.
Ukraine’s general staff said Russia had strengthened its forces in the Bakhmut area and was shelling settlements around the city.
Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk region hunkered in muddy trenches after suddenly warmer weather softened the frozen ground.
“Both sides stay in their positions, because as you see, spring means mud. Thus, it is impossible to move forward,” said Mykola, 59, commander of a Ukrainian frontline rocket launcher battery, watching a tablet screen for coordinates to fire.
The spring thaw, known as the rasputitsa, has a history of ruining plans by armies to attack across the soil of Ukraine and western Russia, turning roads into rivers and fields into impenetrable bogs.