Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky signaled Kyiv is preparing its soldiers for counteroffensives and praised them for defending the country despite the “insane pressure” they are currently under as the war grinds on.
“We are preparing for the return of our warriors to actions for the liberation of our land,” the President said in his nightly address Tuesday, alluding to an expected counteroffensive Ukraine is likely to launch in spring.
Ahead of that offensive, Zelensky said Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine that has been wrestled over by Russian and Ukrainian forces for over six months, remains the epicenter of fierce fighting and fatalities in the war. The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces told Zelensky on Tuesday that 800 Russian soldiers had died in the vicinity of Bakhmut alone since last Thursday.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank estimates that Russia has seen more losses from a year of war in Ukraine than all Russian wars following World War II combined.
The US think tank estimates that about 5,000 to 5,800 Russian military personnel have been killed every month since last February, bringing the total dead to up to 70,000 individuals.
Russian mercenary leader says Ukraine putting up ‘fierce resistance’ in Bakhmut
The head of Russia’s mercenary troops, who have been fighting for months to capture Bakhmut and surrounding settlements, said Wednesday that Ukraine is putting up fierce resistance to Russian efforts to fully encircle and capture the city in Donetsk.
The founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, denied several Russian reports suggesting Ukrainian security forces had received an order to retreat from Bakhmut saying that, on the contrary, Ukraine was throwing everything it could muster to defend Bakhmut, a city that Russia calls “Artemivsk” or “Artemovsk.”
“The Armed Forces of Ukraine in Artemivsk are adding additional reserves and are trying with all their might to keep the city. Tens of thousands of soldiers of the Ukrainian army are putting up fierce resistance, the bloodshed of the battles is increasing every day,” Prigozhin said in a statement reported by Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
Prigozhin’s forces, made up of standard mercenary fighters and men recruited from Russian jails who were offered a reprieve in return for fighting in Ukraine, have been credited with slow, incremental advances by Russian forces in Donetsk in recent weeks.
Unlike some Russian military officials, Prigozhin has not downplayed the abilities of Ukraine’s fighters and he has been openly critical of the Russian defense ministry’s strategies in Ukraine, ruffling feathers back in Moscow.
Russian forces continued to pummel Bakhmut on Wednesday but have not fully surrounded the city, according to Reuters.
The news agency noted Wednesday that it was still able to reach Bakhmut from the west on Monday, saying that was “proof that the city was not yet surrounded despite Russian forces pressing from north and south to close the last remaining routes in.”
According to Reuters, flames and smoke rose into the sky from blazing buildings, and the sounds of gunfire and explosions peppered the air. Ukrainian armored vehicles roared through the streets, it noted, while stray dogs wandered in the mud and destruction wrought on the former industrial city.
Several thousands of civilians remain in the city despite the relentless fighting around them, which has been going on for more than half a year. Russia has thrown thousands of troops into the fighting around Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk that it is determined to capture in a bid to rupture Ukrainian supply lines in the east.
In an update on Facebook Wednesday morning, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces have “not stopped storming the city of Bakhmut” but said Ukraine’s forces continue to fight back.
Russia accuses Ukraine of attempting drone attack on Crimea
Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed Wednesday that Ukraine had attempted to carry out what it described as a “massive drone attack on objects of the Crimean peninsula,” but said the attack had been prevented.
“Six Ukrainian attack drones were shot down by air defense systems. Four more Ukrainian drones were disabled by electronic warfare,” it said, news agency Tass reported, noting there were no casualties from the incident. It did not give details on what was targeted nor did it present evidence.
Ukraine has not yet responded to the claim, which comes a day after Russia accused it of carrying out several drone attacks on Russian territory.
On Wednesday, however, the head of the joint press center at Operational Command South, Natalia Humeniuk, said Russian forces were looking to further fortify defense positions in Crimea, a peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.
Humeniuk said on Ukrainian television that Russia had brought in conscripts to dig defenses in a bid to set up a firm line ahead of a potential Ukrainian offensive, news agency Ukrinfornm reported.
“Let them dig, It’s something to keep their hands busy for now,” Humeniuk added.
Russia looking to stretch Ukraine’s air defenses with new drone strikes
A series of drone attacks on Ukraine at the start of the week were likely launched by Russia from a new site, giving it more opportunity to strike targets in Kyiv, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said Monday that it had shot down 11 Shahed one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAVs) out of 14 that had been launched the previous night.
Serhii Popko, the head of the Kyiv City Military Administration, reported nine of these were shot down in the vicinity of Kyiv airspace.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense noted in its daily intelligence updated that “due to the vector of the attack, these Shahed-UAVs were highly likely launched from the Bryansk Oblast, Russia. Previously, the only observed launch site since mid-December 2022 was from the Krasnodar region, across the Sea of Azov.”
“A second launch site would give the Russians a different axis of attack, closer to Kyiv. This is likely to decrease time in the air over Ukraine and attempt to further stretch Ukrainian air defenses,” it added.
The defense ministry also noted a brief reprieve from drone attacks that have been used to damage Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and have also hit residential buildings, noting that prior to these latest attacks there had not been any reports of UAVs being used in Ukraine since around February 15.
“This decrease in OWA UAV attack tempo likely indicates that Russia has run down its current stock: It will likely seek a resupply,” it said.
IAEA chief says team at Zaporizhzhia heard 20 explosions near the nuclear power plant
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi renewed his concerns about heavy artillery fire near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Grossi said the site, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, temporarily lost power on “its only remaining backup power line.”
He said that IAEA inspectors at the site documented at least 20 detonations on Monday.
He also expressed concerns about the IAEA inspectors at the facility who have not been able to rotate out of working there. He added that the team should have been replaced nearly a month ago.