President Volodymyr Zelensky met with his top military advisers and announced that Ukrainian troops will continue to fight for the Donbass city of Bakhmut. The nine-month battle has recently been described as a “meat grinder,” and Kiev’s Western backers are concerned that Ukraine is losing too many troops and weapons in the fight.
On Tuesday, Zelensky held a meeting of the staff of Kiev’s Supreme Commander-in-Chief. A press release from Zelensky’s office said all the officials in attendance agreed to continue fighting for Bakhmut, which is also known as Artyomovsk in Russia.
Fighting for the city intensified in January after Russian forces seized the nearby settlement of Soledar. German officials estimate that Kiev is losing a “three-figure” number of soldiers every day fighting for Bakhmut, while an American serving on Kiev’s side in the city called the battle a “meat grinder” and said troops on the front lines only survive for an average of four hours.
Ukrainian leaders say Russia is also experiencing high losses in Bakhmut, fueled by inexperienced and under-equipped soldiers. The Kyiv Independent spoke with Ukrainian forces who said they are facing similar conditions. “Ukrainian infantrymen told the Kyiv Independent of unprepared, poorly-trained battalions being thrown into the front line meat grinder to survive as best they could with little support from armored vehicles, mortars, artillery, drones and tactical information,” the Kiev-based outlet reported earlier this month.
The press release from Zelensky’s office said the supply of military equipment to the city was discussed in Tuesday’s meeting, but did not specify if Kiev intended to provide additional resources to its front-line fighters in Bakhmut.
The Washington Post noted Kiev is running low on men and weapons. “An influx of inexperienced draftees, brought in to plug the losses, has changed the profile of the Ukrainian force,” Isabelle Khurshudyan wrote in the Post. “[The force] is also suffering from basic shortages of ammunition, including artillery shells and mortar bombs, according to military personnel in the field.”
On Sunday, Politico reported that Western officials believe Kiev has lost too many soldiers and weapons in the city. Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Ukrainian defense of the city was more “symbolic” than “strategic,” raising doubts about its “operational value” in comments to reporters.
However, Ukrainian officials believe Bakhmut holds crucial strategic value. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Zelensky said if the city falls, Russia will have an “open road” in the Donbass region. “We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he told the CNN host.
Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, in a Telegram post on Tuesday, claimed Bakhmut was vital, saying it held “paramount strategic importance for deterring the enemy.” He added that the city “is key in the stability of the defense of the entire front.”
While Zelensky may be prepared to expend an endless amount of lives and weapons in Bakhmut, he might find his Western backers are unwilling to increase their support. The Politico report noted recent “grumblings” from US officials about ”the constant requests and, at times, Zelensky not showing appropriate gratitude” for the American largesse.