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Russia claims village on outskirts of Bakhmut

Russian forces say they have taken control of the village of Blahodatne in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

February 1, 2023
1 February 2023

Russia has claimed to have captured a village just to the north of Bakhmut, a city it is trying to surround in a major push for what would be its biggest battlefield prize in Ukraine in months.

A Belarusian volunteer fighting for Ukraine told Reuters from inside Bakhmut that Russian forces were shelling the city constantly and its troops were trying to encircle it.

Fighting was underway building by building, the volunteer said.

There was no immediate response from Ukraine to Russia’s claim about the village of Blahodatne, and Reuters was not immediately able to verify the situation there. 

It came three days after the head of Russia’s Wagner Group said the mercenary force had seized the village in an attack Ukraine said it had repelled.

Blahodatne, which sits on one of the main roads into Bakhmut about 5km north, was captured with the help of aerial support, Russia’s defence ministry said.

Russian forces have made clear, if gradual, advances in the area in recent weeks, notably capturing the salt-mining town of Soledar to Bakhmut’s north.

Were it to force Ukraine to withdraw from the city that once held 75,000 people, it would be Russia’s first major gain since it took the similarly-sized cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in July.

During the fighting for Bakhmut, two civilians, a boy and a 70-year-old-man, were killed by Russian artillery on Tuesday, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

Four others were wounded in the attack, he said.

Separately, a large Russian force has launched an assault against the Ukrainian-held bastion of Vuhledar this week, further south along the same eastern front.

Russian officials have claimed to have secured a foothold there while Ukraine says it has largely repulsed that attack so far.

Despite weeks of intense trench warfare that both sides have compared to a meat grinder, front lines in eastern Ukraine had largely been frozen in place since November after Ukraine recaptured swathes of territory in the second half of 2022.

But momentum has lately swung back towards Russia as it has made incremental gains for the first time since mid-2022.

Military experts say Russia appears determined to push forward in the coming months before Ukraine receives hundreds of newly pledged foreign battle tanks and armoured vehicles for a counter-attack to recapture occupied territory this year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described Russia’s push in the east as an attempt at “revenge” for earlier losses.

“We will stop them all, little by little, destroy them and prepare our big counteroffensive,” he said on Monday.

Since winning a pledge from the US and European countries for tanks after months of lobbying, Ukraine has pressed on with further requests for arms, including calls for jet fighters such as US F-16s.

US President Joe Biden responded with a flat “No” when asked by reporters at the White House on Monday if his country would send F-16s.

Still, Ukraine has held out hope. 

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Tuesday “there is no taboo” when asked about supplying fighter jets to Ukraine. 

Lecornu spoke after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksiy Reznikov in Paris.

Reznikov was due also to meet President Emmanuel Macron, who told reporters in The Hague on Monday that “nothing is excluded” when it comes to military help. 

Macron said any move to send jets would depend on factors including the need to avoid escalation and assurances planes would not “touch Russian soil”.

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