On Friday, Moscow confirmed that its troops had retreated north of Bakhmut, Ukraine’s frontline city, in response to a recent Ukrainian offensive. The leader of Russia’s Wagner private army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, referred to this retreat as a rout. This setback seems to indicate a strategic move by Ukraine to encircle Russian forces in Bakhmut, an area where some of the war’s most intense fighting has taken place.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the “east” group of Ukrainian forces, announced on the Telegram messaging app, “In three days of counter-offensive activity, the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Bakhmut sector have liberated 17.3 sq. km (6.6 sq. miles) of territory.”
This marks the most significant Ukrainian advancement in six months, although Ukraine has been somewhat vague about the details and has downplayed the notion of a large-scale, premeditated counteroffensive.
Igor Konashenkov, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, stated that Ukraine had initiated an assault north of Bakhmut with more than 1,000 troops and up to 40 tanks. This would be the largest Ukrainian offensive since November if verified. Although the Russians repelled 26 attacks, some troops have fallen back to regroup at more advantageous locations near the Berkhivka reservoir, northwest of Bakhmut.
Prigozhin criticized the retreat, terming it as a rout rather than a regrouping. He added that the Ukrainians have seized high ground overlooking Bakhmut and have opened the main highway leading into the city from the West. They have also gained control of the Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut road and have seized the tactical high ground under which Bakhmut is located. Prigozhin has repeatedly criticized Russia’s regular military over the past week for failing to support his forces in Bakhmut.
In Luhansk, an industrial complex in Russian-occupied territory around 100 km (60 miles) from the front, was hit by two missiles. The impact resulted in massive columns of smoke visible above the city. This strike, beyond the range of Ukraine’s typical battlefield rockets, occurred a day after Britain announced it was supplying longer-range cruise missiles.
The Ukrainian offensive near Bakhmut reportedly started on Tuesday, with a Ukrainian unit claiming victory over a Russian brigade southwest of the city. Prigozhin also reported that the Russian brigade in that area fled. However, these claims have yet to be independently verified.
On Friday evening, the Ukrainian military command reported combat in Bakhmut and Russian shelling of nearby towns but did not mention any advancement or Russian withdrawal.