This video taken from a shooting by AFPTV shows an aerial view of the destruction in the city of Bakhmut on February 27, 2023. – Ukraine said that on February 28, 2023, its forces were under pressure in Bakhmut, an almost destroyed city in the east of the country. The Donetsk region that Russia has been trying to take for months.

– | Afp | Getty Images

Russian artillery pounded the last routes out of Bakhmut on Friday, aiming to complete the encirclement of the besieged Ukrainian city and bring Moscow closer to its first major victory in six months after the bloodiest battle of the war.

The head of Russia’s private Wagner army said the city, which has been reduced to rubble in Russia’s more than seven-month offensive, was almost completely surrounded with only one road open to Ukrainian troops.

Reuters observed intense Russian shelling of routes leading west from Bakhmut, an apparent attempt to block Ukrainian forces’ access in and out of the city. A bridge in the adjacent town of Khromove was damaged by Russian tank shelling.

Ukrainian soldiers were working to repair damaged roads and more troops were heading to the front line in a sign that Ukraine was not yet ready to give up the city. In the west, Ukrainians dug new trenches for defensive positions.

Russian state news agency RIA released a video showing what it said were Wagner fighters passing a damaged industrial plant. A fighter is heard saying that the Ukrainian army is destroying infrastructure in settlements near Bakhmut to prevent the Russian encirclement.

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, visited Bakhmut on Friday for briefings with local commanders on how to increase the defense capabilities of frontline forces.

Denys Yaroslavskyi, commander of a Ukrainian army unit at Bakhmut, told Espreso TV that parts of some units had been ordered to rotate to more secure positions, describing the situation since morning as “a slaughterhouse on both sides”.

A Russian victory in Bakhmut, with a pre-war population of around 70,000, would bring the first major prize in a costly winter offensive, after it called up hundreds of thousands of reservists last year. Russia says it would be a stepping stone to completing the conquest of the industrial Donbas region, one of Moscow’s most important targets.

Before the war, Bakhmut was known for salt and gypsum mines. Ukraine says the city has little strategic value and the huge casualties Russia has suffered trying to take Bakhmut could shape the course of the conflict.

“The Tongs Close”

“Units of the private military company Wagner have virtually surrounded Bakhmut,” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video that Reuters determined was filmed on a rooftop in a village about 7 km (4 miles) north of the city center.

“Only one way (out) remains,” he said. “The tongs are closing.”

He called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to order a retreat from Bakhmut to save the lives of his soldiers. The camera panned to show three captured Ukrainians – a gray-bearded elderly man and two boys – begging to go home.

Robert Brovdi, the commander of a Ukrainian drone unit operating in Bakhmut that goes by the name “Madyar”, said in a video posted on social media that his unit had been ordered to withdraw immediately. He said he had been fighting there for 110 days.

Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander of Ukraine’s National Guard, told Ukrainska NV Radio that the situation was “critical” with fighting “around the clock”.

“They don’t count their losses when they try to take the city by assault. Our forces in Bakhmut are tasked with inflicting as many losses on the enemy as possible. Every meter of Ukrainian ground costs the enemy hundreds of lives.” he said.

“There are many more Russians here than we have ammunition to destroy them.”

More American weapons

Recent days have seen alarm in Russia about its own potential vulnerabilities after Moscow reported a number of drone attacks on targets deep inside Russia, followed by what it said was an armed cross-border raid on Thursday.

President Vladimir Putin told his Security Council on Friday to step up “anti-terrorism measures”.

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy visited wounded soldiers at a military hospital in Lviv. One shook the president’s hand from the bed and apologized for not being able to get up. “It’s okay,” Zelenskyy said. “The time will come and you will rise.”

Zelenskyy did not give details about the fighting in Bakhmut during an evening video address in which he thanked the troops for “firmly and bravely” defending the city.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced another round of military aid to Ukraine, a package of ammunition and other support worth $400 million.

The United States has provided nearly $32 billion in aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022.

At the White House, US President Joe Biden thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his “deep” support for Ukraine. Scholz said it was important to send the message that support for Ukraine will continue “as long as it takes and as long as necessary.”

After the meeting, the White House said the pair reiterated their commitment to impose costs on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Germany is producing Leopard tanks that were promised in January and are expected to be the core of a new Ukrainian armored force.

Scholz has been criticized by some Western allies for taking a cautious public stance against arming Ukraine, even as he has overseen a major shift in policy from a country that was Russia’s biggest energy customer before the war.

Kiev’s ambassador to Berlin, Oleksii Makeiev, said Germany is now taking more of a leadership role in arming Ukraine.

Moscow, which says it has annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine, accuses pro-Western Kiev of posing a security threat. Ukraine and its allies say the invasion was an unprovoked war of conquest.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, pointing to US military interventions around the world, accused the US of hypocrisy on Friday after Blinken said Moscow cannot be allowed to wage war in Ukraine with impunity. The two men met briefly on the sidelines of a G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting in India.