KHROMOVE, UKRAINE — On Saturday, tensions rose between pro-government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, as Kyiv’s forces attempted to aid residents in leaving the besieged city.
According to Ukrainian troops assisting the civilians, a woman was killed and two men were severely injured by shelling while attempting to cross a makeshift bridge out of Bakhmut on Saturday. The Associated Press was told by an unnamed Ukrainian military official that it is now too dangerous for civilians to leave the city by vehicle and that people must flee on foot.
For months now, Bakhmut has been in the sights of Russian troops, including large forces from the private Wagner Group, as they inch closer and closer to Kyiv’s key eastern stronghold.
On Saturday, an Associated Press team near Bakhmut witnessed Ukrainian soldiers constructing a pontoon bridge for the city’s remaining residents to cross to the neighboring village of Khromove. At least five homes in Khromove were reportedly destroyed in subsequent attacks.
According to UK military intelligence officials and other Western analysts, Ukrainian units have spent the past 36 hours destroying two key bridges outside of Bakhmut, including one connecting it to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining Ukrainian resupply route.
According to the most recent of the British Ministry of Defense’s frequent Twitter updates, the bridges were destroyed as Russian fighters advanced into the northern suburbs of Bakhmut, increasing the pressure on its Ukrainian defenders.
Late on Friday, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) speculated that Ukrainian actions may portend an impending pullout from parts of the city. According to the document, Ukrainian forces may “conduct a limited and controlled withdrawal from particularly difficult sections of eastern Bakhmut” in an effort to thwart Russian expansion in the area and close off potential escape routes to the west.
In addition to giving Russian forces a rare battlefield victory after months of losses, seizing Bakhmut could cut off supplies to other Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Donetsk region.
People who stayed behind in the area to avoid evacuation spoke of their daily struggles under the nearly constant threat of enemy fire as the fighting continued. Hennadiy Mazepa and his wife Natalia Ishkova, both residents of Bakhmut, decided to stay put despite the city being largely destroyed by the fighting. Ishkova told the Associated Press on Saturday that they had gone without food and water for several days.
We only receive humanitarian aid once a month. No running water, no gas stoves, she said.
I hope to God that everyone else who is still here makes it,” Ishkova said.
On Thursday, Russian missiles struck a five-story apartment building in southern Ukraine, killing at least five people. On Saturday morning, Ukrainian emergency services reported that number had risen to ten.
At this point, 36 hours after a Russian missile ripped through four floors of the building in the riverside city of Zaporizhzhia, the Main Directorate of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said in an online statement that rescuers had pulled three more bodies from the wreckage overnight. A child was listed as one of the fatalities, and it was reported that rescue operations were still underway.