On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it had “completely liberated” the city of Artyomovsk – known to Ukraine as Bakhmut.
The Russian Army had largely failed to take the urban center in the Donbas region after nine months of heavy fighting, and the capture of the city came only following the support of forces from the Wagner Group, the private mercenary unit that has been supporting the Kremlin.
“The assault teams of the Wagner private military company with the support of artillery and aviation of the southern battlegroup has completed the liberation of the city of Artyomovsk,” the ministry stated, per a report from Tass.
Ukraine’s forces successfully deprived Moscow of such a prize, and even now that the city is nearly entirely under Russian control, it has earned a pyrrhic victory at best for the Kremlin.
Bakhmut had a pre-war population of more than 70,000 but was completely razed to the ground in the fighting.
The few thousand residents unable to flee have survived by hiding in shelters with no running water or electricity.
Only in Their Hearts
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking from the G-7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan – a city completely destroyed at the end of the Second World War by an atomic bomb – remarked that Bakhmut was “only in our hearts,” following the Russian claims of capturing the city.
“They (the Russians) destroyed everything. There are no buildings,” Zelensky responded to a press question on whether Bakhmut had fallen, per Fox News. “It’s a pity, its tragedy but today Bakhmut is only in our hearts. There is nothing in this place. Just drones and a lot of dead Russians. But they came to us. So our defenders in Bakhmut, they did strong work. And of course, we appreciate them for their great job.”
Though it is the first Russian victory in months in Ukraine, it has been a costly one, with tens of thousands of Russian soldiers killed or wounded in the fighting.
“I’ll tell you openly: Photographs of ruined Hiroshima absolutely remind me of Bakhmut and other similar settlements. Nothing left alive, all the buildings ruined,” Zelensky added.
Can Russia Hold It?
Though Ukrainian forces reportedly still held a small section of the city, it was on Saturday that Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin first claimed his fighters had taken control of Bakhmut.
He further announced that his forces would pull off the city to rest and recover, handing over the “prize” to the Russian military.
It was just a day later, on Sunday, that Ukraine claimed to have begun to encircle the ruined city.
General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said in a Telegram post that Kyiv’s troops were preparing for a “tactical encirclement,” and that they had already advanced along the flanks.
“Our forces have taken the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy … the enemy has to defend himself in the part of the city he controls,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar also posted to Telegram.
Russia’s celebrations of a victory in Bakhmut could be short-lived, especially if it can’t hold the city. The fighting has evoked comparisons to the Battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War, and it was where the Germans fought for months to take the city – only for its Sixth Army to be encircled and destroyed.
History could have a way of repeating itself.
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Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.