Volunteers carry remains of a Uragan rocket as they clean the area around a cave monastery destroyed in shelling in Dolyna village of Donetsk region.—AFP
Volunteers carry remains of a Uragan rocket as they clean the area around a cave monastery destroyed in shelling in Dolyna village of Donetsk region.—AFP

KYIV: Fierce fighting is raging for control of the centre of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the longest-running and bloodiest battle of Moscow’s invasion, Russian and Ukrainian forces said Monday.

Ukraine said that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which has claimed to be leading Moscow’s charge for the industrial city, was pushing forward in the city that has been the epicentre of fighting for months.

“Wagner assault units are advancing from several directions, trying to break through our troops’ defensive positions and move to the centre of the city,” the Ukrainian military said in a morning briefing.

“In fierce battles, our defenders are inflicting significant losses on the enemy,” it added.

Ukraine has said its strategy with the defence of Bakhmut is to degrade Russia’s ability to launch any further offensive in the coming months and buy time to ready its bid to recapture ground.

Analysts are divided over the strategic significance of Bakh­mut as a military prize but the city has gained important political stature, with both sides pouring significant resources into the fight.

Bakhmut municipal officials on Monday told Ukrainian media that there were still more than 4,000 people living in the town, including 33 children.

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin also acknowledged that his forces were coming up against determined resistance as they sought to wrest control of the city’s centre.

‘Surge in arms demand’

Kyiv has cautioned the city’s fall would give Russian forces a clear path deeper into the Donetsk region, which the Kremlin claimed to have annexed to Russia last year.

Russia has reported painstaking gains around Bakhmut in recent weeks, making progress on encircling the city, but it has not made significant territorial gains in months.

Nato warned last week that Bakhmut could fall within a matter of days while Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to continue to hold the city “as long as possible”.

The International Criminal Court will open two cases against Russian officials over invasion of Ukraine, the New York Times reported on Monday.

A spokeswoman for the office of ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said it “offers no comment about this story.”

In its report, the NYT said the first case involved Russia’s alleged abduction of Ukrain­ian children, who were then sent for adoption or to re-education camps.

According to the second case, Russian forces allegedly deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure such as power and water plants with missile attacks.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2023

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