Bakhmut Is Falling and It’s Obvious Why

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Why Bakhmut Is Falling


Just two days ago I reported that Bakhmut is falling. The Ukrainian soldiers there are outgunned 1 to 10 and die under artillery fire with little chance to shoot back. More reports from the front have since come in. They support my dire view.

The German pro-Ukrainian news outlet Bild reported this morning that there were misgivings in the Ukrainian war leadership:

President Volodymyr Zelensky and Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi have conflicting views on how the military should handle the situation in Bakhmut, according to unnamed sources within the Ukrainian political leadership cited in a report by Bild.

Bild writes that Zaluzhnyi was deliberating a tactical withdrawal from Bakhmut weeks ago over concern for the wellbeing of his troops.

The Ukrainian government told Bild that remaining in Bakhmut was the right decision due to the serious damage it inflicted on Russian military personnel and equipment. However, according to other sources cited by the publication, the situation is at risk of becoming untenable.

“The vast majority of soldiers in Bakhmut do not understand why the city is being held,” a Ukrainian military analyst told Bild on condition of anonymity.

Just hours after that item came out, Zelensky’s office issued a press release denying any such trouble (machine translation):

On Monday, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a regular meeting of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief’s Staff. The commanders of the operational and strategic troop groups reported on the situation on the main front lines.

The members of the Staff considered the situation in Bakhmut in particular. Assessing the course of the defense operation, the President asked Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valeriy Zaluzhnyi and Commander of the operational and strategic grouping of troops “Khortytsia” Oleksandr Syrskyi about further actions in the Bakhmut direction. They spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut.

I do not believe that Zaluzhnyi and Sirskyi gave such advice. The situation for the Ukrainians in Bakhmut (Ru: Artyomovsk) is hopeless and they certainly know it. Losses would be less if the troops would pull back to the next defense line on the higher grounds west of Bakhmut.

Source: – bigger
The current situation is a mess:

Source: Live UA map – bigger
To move out of Bakhmut or to move supplies in, one has to cross a 10 kilometer long corridor which is only 6 kilometer wide and completely covered by Russian artillery and ground fire. The results of attempts to run that gauntlet can be read in the Russian Defense Ministry’s daily report:

In Donetsk direction, the active action of the ‘Yug’ Group of Forces and artillery operation have resulted in the elimination of up to 225 Ukrainian personnel, five infantry fighting vehicles, nine armoured fighting vehicles, five pickups, four motor vehicles, one Uragan MLRS, and one D-30 howitzer.One ordnance depot of 55th Artillery Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), and one U.S.-manufactured AN/TPQ-37 counterbattery warfare radar have been destroyed near Dachnoye and Chasov Yar (Donetsk People’s Republic) respectively.

Losing 23 transport vehicles in a day, plus the people in them, is quite severe. It has stopped freezing in Bakhmut and the fields are now too muddy to drive over them. Here is video of some pickups which tried and got messed up by artillery fire. All roads out are under direct Russian fire. The safest way to move in or out is thereby probably a long walk through the muddy fields.

Another map of Bakhmut:

Source: Military Land – bigger
The above map is two days old. It shows 9 Ukrainian brigade equivalents in the area. I do not know how reliable the information about those unit positions is. The overview map from the same source shows a total of 13 brigade equivalents in the same area.

Source: Military Land – bigger
A full brigade has about 3,000 to 3,500 men. So there are probably 30,000 to 40,000 Ukrainian troops involved. However all these brigades have had losses. Some even had extreme losses and are now only at 30% of their original size.

In Saturday’s summary Military Land authors wrote about Bakhmut:

  • A road bridge was blown up in Khromove settlement, west of Bakhmut. The only remaining road from/to Bakhmut is through the fields and Ivanivske. (source)
  • Given the situation in the area of Bakhmut and reports on the ground, it’s safe to assume that Russian forces captured the remaining part of northern outskirts and the area north of Tavr Meat Plant.
  • The situation in Zabakhmutka (eastern part of Bakhmut) is currently covered by the fog of war. There is a possibility that Ukrainian defenders retreated from the area.

Here is another map based on Russian sources.

Source: Rybar – bigger
Yesterday the Kyiv Independent reported from near the frontline about the bad situation for the Ukrainian troops fighting there:

Ukrainian soldiers in Bakhmut: ‘Our troops are not being protected’

Russia’s relentless assault on Bakhmut is sacrificing waves and waves of unprepared men being sent to their deaths.But multiple defenders of this embattled city in Donetsk Oblast feel that they are in a similar boat, according to interviews with more than a dozen soldiers currently fighting in or around Bakhmut.

During their brief visits to the nearby town of Kostiantynivka, Ukrainian infantrymen told the Kyiv Independent 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.

“We don’t get any support,” says a soldier named Serhiy, who has been fighting on the front lines in Bakhmut, sitting down with his friend, also named Serhiy, for a conversation in a small cafe in the Kostiantynivka market. Both men are in their 40s but one of them is a bit older than the other.

The soldiers lack about everything that would support their defense:

They say that Russian artillery, infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers are often allowed to strike Ukrainian positions for hours or days without being shut down by Ukrainian heavy weapons. Some complained of poor coordination and situational awareness, allowing this to happen or making it even worse.Mortarmen spoke of extreme ammunition scarcity and having to use weapons dating back to World War II. Drones that are supposed to provide critical reconnaissance information are also scarce and are being lost at very high rates in some parts of the battlefield.

All this leads to terrifying casualties of both dead and wounded. “The battalion came in in the middle of December… between all the different platoons, there were 500 of us,” says Borys, a combat medic from Odesa Oblast fighting around Bakhmut. “A month ago, there were literally 150 of us.”

“When you go out to the position, it’s not even a 50/50 chance that you’ll come out of there (alive),” says the older Serhiy. “It’s more like 30/70.”

The soldiers describe the Russian operation as small reconnaissance followed by artillery fire. This is repeated again and again until it has reached the desired result. The very reasonable application of this tactic is why I disregard claims of ‘waves of Russian cannon fodder storming forward’ or of ‘high Russian losses’. They are obviously nonsense:

The older Serhiy says that the enemy likes to send a team of three or four expendable foot soldiers to attack and make the Ukrainians expose themselves by shooting at them. At that point, the more elite forces zero in on the defenders’ position.Once they begin exchanging fire, the Ukrainians are struck with heavier weapons like Russian mortars and rockets from Grad multiple launch rocket systems or BMP infantry fighting vehicles and BTR armored personnel carriers with machine guns.

“They get the positions where we are, establish the coordinates, then they hit us from seven to nine kilometers out with mortars,” as well as from closer by with grenade launchers, says the older Serhiy. “They wait for the house to fall so we have to jump out. The building catches fire and then they try to finish us off.”

“Their birds come out and they chase us with fire,” adds the younger Serhiy, referring to Russian UAVs, like quadcopters and Orlan-10 fixed wing drones that spot distant heavy weapons. “They hit accurately.”

As Russians destroy more and more buildings, Ukrainians keep losing more places where they can reliably take cover. Borys the medic says people have been lost when their entrenched positions collapsed from heavy Russian fire, suffocating them.

“I’ll put it like this, we should get our people out because if we don’t take off, then in the next few weeks, it’s going to be bad,” says Oleksandr. A mortarman named Illia agrees that Bakhmut is “practically encircled.”

For lack of ammunition there is no Ukrainian counter artillery fire. Infantry fighting vehicles are held back from the front. The little trained Territorial Brigades are sent in at night to be killed the next morning:

Multiple soldiers say Bakhmut troops are barely given enough time to learn to shoot a rifle – sometimes their training is just 2 weeks, before they’re dropped into the hottest parts of the most intense current battle of the war. They would have preferred for troops to get a minimum of two or three months of training before being deployed to such a hot spot.“Two weeks’ live training and they’re sent here. You can’t do that,” says the older Serhiy. “Or it’s a person who once served in the army, how long ago was that? Obviously they forgot everything.”

“We were promised that we wouldn’t be sent to the zero line right away, that at first we’d be sent to the second or third line,” he continues. “And then we came here in the middle of the night and they immediately sent us to Bakhmut.”

According to both soldiers named Serhiy, most brigades are insufficiently trained and lack the experience for an environment as brutal as Bakhmut. People are taken at night to a place they’d never seen before and the battle starts in the morning.

“This is why positions are abandoned, people are there for the first time,” says the younger Serhiy. “I went to a position three times and was given six people who hadn’t fought at all before. We had a few dead and wounded that had to be evacuated… Our people are not being protected.”

Oleksandr confirms that while some battalions fighting in Bakhmut are well-trained and ready, most of them aren’t and many were thrown in at night without much preparation. “Yes, that’s true, my battalion was not prepared,” he says. After five months without a single break from the fighting, only half of Oleksandr’s battalion is left, he says.“They shouldn’t have rushed to throw everyone in there,” says the younger Serhiy. “Better to abandon those positions, who cares? It’s better to properly train people.”

The Kyiv Independent reporter did not ask, or did not report, what opinion the soldiers hold about Zelensky’s pep talk and die-hard slogans.

I don’t think that they will thank him for the experiences they have gained. They will rather use them to explain their disgust to him.




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