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Russian forces flee Bakhmut ‘in bad order’ amid Ukraine war

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Published: 09:13 BST, 13 May 2023 | Updated: 14:13 BST, 13 May 2023

Russian forces have fled Ukraine’s battlefield city Bakhmut ‘in bad order’ as Kyiv‘s military recaptured ground in the besieged city, the Ministry of Defence has said.

Over the past four days, Putin‘s men have withdrawn from their positions on the southern flank of the city in the eastern Donetsk region, the ministry detailed, in what is viewed as a humiliating set back for the Kremlin.

Ukrainian forces are now understood to have regained at least a kilometer of territory ahead of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive.

In further damning news for Putin’s forces, the ministry said it had intelligence Russia was dealing with a ‘severe shortage of credible combat units’.

Moscow acknowledged the military set backs on Friday, admitting that its forces had fallen back north of Bakhmut, in what was reported as the biggest Ukrainian gains in six months.

To add to Putin’s woes, it was reported that Russia had also ordered the evacuation of thousands of residents of the occupied Kharkiv region as the conflict appears to intensify even further.

Ukrainian tanks ride near Bakhmut, in the eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have continued, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Friday

Ukrainian servicemen fire a Partyzan multiple launch rocket system towards Russian troops near a frontline, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, Friday

A Ukrainian soldier looks on near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, in the Donetsk region on Friday

‘Over the last four days, elements of Russia’s 72nd Separate Motor Rifle Brigade (72SMRB) likely withdrew in bad order from their positions on the southern flank of the Bakhmut operation. Ukrainian forces regained at least a kilometre of territory,’ the Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update.

‘The area has some tactical significance because it was a Russian bridgehead on the western side of the Donets-Donbas Canal, which marks the front line through parts of the sector. 

’72 SMRB is an element of Russia’s 3rd Army Corps, a formation created in Autumn 2023 and dogged with allegations of poor morale and limited combat effectiveness. 

‘Its deployment to such a demanding and operationally important sector highlights Russia’s severe shortage of credible combat units.’

The devastating setback for Russia suggests a coordinated push by Kyiv to encircle Russian forces in Bakhmut, Moscow’s main objective for months during the war’s bloodiest fighting.

‘In three days of counter-offensive activity, the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Bakhmut sector have liberated 6.6 sq. miles (17.3 sq km) of territory,’ Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for the ‘east’ group of Ukrainian forces, said on the Telegram messaging app.

Both sides are reporting the biggest Ukrainian gains in six months, although Ukraine has given few details and played down suggestions a huge, long-planned counteroffensive has officially begun.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Friday

Ukrainian servicemen rest at their positions after a fight near the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Thursday

Ukrainian soldiers carry a wounded soldier at the Bakhmut frontline in Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, Friday

Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, Friday

Ukrainian soldiers stay next to a captured Russian army serviceman, according to them, on positions recently gained in an offensive, Friday

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukraine had launched an assault north of Bakhmut with more than 1,000 troops and up to 40 tanks, a scale that if confirmed would amount to the biggest Ukrainian offensive since November.

The Russians had repelled 26 attacks but troops in one area had fallen back to regroup in more favourable positions near the Berkhivka reservoir northwest of Bakhmut, Konashenkov said.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner forces that have led the campaign in the city, said in an audio message: ‘What Konashenkov described, unfortunately, is called ‘a rout’ and not a regrouping’.

In a separate video message, Prigozhin said the Ukrainians had seized high ground overlooking Bakhmut and opened the main highway leading into the city from the West.

‘The loss of the Berkhivka reservoir – the loss of this territory they gave up – that’s 5 sq km, just today,’ Prigozhin said.

‘The enemy has completely freed up the Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut road which we had blocked. The enemy is now able to use this road, and secondly they have taken tactical high ground under which Bakhmut is located,’ said Prigozhin, who has repeatedly denounced Russia’s regular military over the past week for failing to supply his men in Bakhmut.

Russian-installed officials said two missiles hit an industrial complex in Luhansk, in Russian-occupied territory around 100 km (60 miles) behind the front. Video posted on the internet showed huge columns of smoke above the city. The strike, just beyond the range of the main battlefield rockets Ukraine has previously deployed, came a day after Britain announced it was sending longer-range cruise missiles.

Ukrainian tanks ride near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, Friday

A Ukrainian serviceman rests at his position after a fight, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, Thursday

A Ukrainian serviceman rests in the dark before a fight, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, Wednesday

Ukrainian servicemen rest at their positions, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Thursday

The Ukrainian advance near Bakhmut appeared to have begun on Tuesday when a Ukrainian unit southwest of the city said it defeated a Russian brigade, recapturing a swathe of land. Prigozhin also said the Russian brigade there fled.

In its evening report on Friday, the Ukrainian military command described fighting in Bakhmut and Russian shelling of nearby towns, but made no mention of any advance or Russian withdrawal.

Prigozhin, whose fighters have been battling to push Ukrainian forces out of Bakhmut’s Western outskirts, has said the north and south flanks, guarded by regular Russian troops, were crumbling. Russia’s defence ministry denies this.

In his nightly address, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Russians were ‘already internally ready for defeat’.

‘They have already lost this war in their minds. We must put pressure on them every day so that their sense of defeat turns into their flight, their mistakes, their losses.

Ukriane’s lastest gains came as it was reported Germany has put together a new package of military equipment for Ukraine worth 2.7 billion euros (£2.37 billion), the biggest since Russia’s invasion.

German publications Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that the package will include 20 Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 30 Leopard 1 tanks, 15 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, 200 reconnaissance drones, four additional Iris-T anti-aircraft systems including ammunition, additional artillery ammunition and more than 200 armoured combat and logistics vehicles.

Russia has also ordered the evacuation of thousands of residents of the occupied Kharkiv region, reports said today.

Up to 3,000 people in up to 29 settlements have been told to flee as Ukraine continues to push to regain territory from Putin’s forces.

Ukriane’s lastest gains came as it was reported Germany has put together a new package of military equipment for Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen pictured near the front line city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Thursday

Ukrainian tanks ride near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, Friday

The Russian military-civilian occupying administration headed by Putin-appointee Vitaly Ganchev ordered the withdrawal.

The Russian army had retained control of settlements in four districts near Kharkiv despite a failure last year to seize Ukraine’s second city.

Their loss now would be humiliating to Putin.

‘Due to the increased shelling by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and in order to avoid civilian casualties, the Military-Civil Administration of the Kharkiv region recommends that you leave the territory of our region for a while until favourable living conditions are established,’ said the message to residents.

They were told that they would receive ‘all necessary assistance and support’ if they opt to evacuate to Russia.

Russia claimed to have ‘destroyed’ 60 Ukrainian troops in bombing and artillery attacks in Kharkiv region.

The city of Kharkiv is only some 19 miles from the Russian border.

Ganchev is accused by Kyiv of previously sending Ukrainian children to Russia without their parents.

Footage from Ukrainian TV showed intense fighting in Bakhmut, scene of Russian retreats.

The Russian public has been told this is ‘regrouping’.

Ukrainian soldier from the 28th Artillery Battalion writing a message on a shell

Ukrainian soldier from the 28th Artillery Battalion carrying a shell of a 120mm mortar on a Russian target on the zero line in the forest near Bakhmut

Russian and Ukrainian armies clash in the Donbass, the fighting is intense and the battle is raging

Ukrainian soldier of the 28th Artillery Battalion preparing a shell for a 120mm mortar on a Russian target

Ukrainian soldier from the 28th Artillery Battalion carrying a shell of a 120mm mortar on a Russian target on the zero line in the forest near Bakhmut

Pro-Putin war channel Rybar branded the Russian pullback ‘deplorable’.

Rebar admitted that ‘units of the Russian Armed Forces that arrived on rotation are retreating to the second and third lines of defence.

‘Ukrainian formations do not cease to put pressure on the flanks.’

The channel stated: ‘So far the retreats are taking place in relatively small areas, which, nevertheless, [Wagner pro-Kremlin mercenary army] won at a difficult price.

‘But if regular units do not gain a foothold and the configuration of forces at the front does not change…then the outcome of such regroupings may become even more deplorable.’

Putin appears to have all but vanished, a common trait when bad news is around.

On Friday he limited himself to a 16-second appearance at a virtual meeting of his security council, addressed by 72-year-old foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

In recent days Putin has used ‘canned’ footage to mask his absence.

He held a meeting with the governor of Tyumen – but did not mention current raging wildfires in the Siberian region.

‘It was clearly filmed before the fires,’ said one comment.


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