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Ukraine updates: Bakhmut residents flee as Russia presses in

March 5, 2023

Capturing the key city would give Moscow a rare battlefield gain after months of setbacks. But Kyiv says Russia is losing hundreds of fighters every day in Bakhmut. DW rounds up the latest.

A woman in Chasiv Yar, near the city of Bakhmut, covers her eyes as she seemingly weeps
Russian fighters have made further inroads into Bakhmut's northern suburbs, prompting Ukrainian units to destroy two critical bridges outside the city in the past 36 hoursImage: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

As pressure from Russian forces intensified, a Ukrainian army representative said it was no longer safe for civilians to leave the frontline eastern city of Bakhmut by vehicles and urged locals to escape on foot instead, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported. 

According to the AP, a pontoon bridge was set up by Ukrainian soldiers to help the few remaining residents reach the nearby village of Khromove. The agency said its team later saw at least five houses on fire after attacks in Khromove.

On Saturday, a British intelligence update said Russian fighters made further inroads into Bakhmut's northern suburbs, prompting Ukrainian units to destroy two critical bridges outside the city in the past 36 hours.

One of these bridges links Bakhmut to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar, along the last remaining Ukrainian resupply route, the British report said.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, has suggested that Ukrainian troops are preparing to withdraw from the key eastern stronghold.

But Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that Russia's losses in Bakhmut "run to 500 killed and wounded every day."

The Russian soldiers were just "cannon fodder" in the "meat grinder tactics" used by Moscow, he said. 

The Ukrainian defense chief said Moscow was making efforts to capture Bakhmut because it held "a symbolic place for the Russians."

On Sunday during his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, "I would like to pay special tribute to the bravery, strength and resilience of the soldiers fighting in the Donbas," adding "this is one of the hardest battles. Painful and difficult."

Capturing Bakhmut would not only give Russian fighters a rare battlefield gain after months of setbacks, but could also rupture Ukraine's supply lines, allowing Moscow's forces to advance toward other Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Donetsk region.

The fierce battle for Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Sunday, March 5:

'Close combat' increased in Ukraine, says UK intelligence report

There has been an increase in close combat in Ukraine, the latest UK defense intelligence report said, citing recent evidence.

The British Defense Ministry assessed that this is likely due to the Russian command's insistence on offensive action consisting mostly of dismounted infantry, with less support from artillery fire due to a shortage of ammunition in Russia.

The report, which was released on Sunday, revealed that in late February Russia mobilized reservists who were ordered to assault a Ukrainian concrete strong point armed only with firearms and shovels.

The "shovels" are believed to be entrenching tools that are being used for hand-to-hand combat, the report said.

One of the reservists who took part in the assault described being "neither physically nor psychologically" prepared for the action, it added.

Russia's defense minister shown on video near frontline

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced Sunday that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with war zone commanders in Ukraine and followed up with video void of audio.

In the video, Shoigu is shown alongside the Chief of General Staff and commander of Russian troops in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, and his deputy Sergey Surovikin.

Though it was not possible to verify how close Shoigu was to frontline fighting, the trip comes a little over a year after Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine began.

EU head has not seen evidence China will give Russia weapons

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she had seen "no evidence so far" from the US or other partners to suggest that China was contemplating sending weapons to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine.

Sanctions against China for doing so remains "a hypothetical question that can only be answered if it becomes reality and fact," she said.

"Every day" the EU keeps watch on the Russian and Chinese relationship, von der Leyen noted. In February 2022, Beijing and Moscow inked a "no limits" partnership.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US did have intelligence to suggest Beijing might provide "lethal support." Beijing denied the report.

European Parliament president urges increased arms deliveries to Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv was planning to increase its cooperation with European institutions this year.

His remarks came shortly after he met with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola during her visit to Ukraine.

"The task is to actively prepare everything for our country's membership in the European Union, increase arms deliveries to Ukraine and strengthen sanctions against Russia," Zelenskyy said in his daily video address.

Meanwhile, Metsola urged increasing arms deliveries to the Ukrainian military. "Member states should seriously consider sending fighter jets to Ukraine," she said.

She expressed hope that accession negotiations for Ukraine could begin as early as this year.

Latvia supports delivering fighter jets to Ukraine

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins expressed his support for supplying Ukraine with fighter jets in an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Karins stated that he saw no reason why the West should not provide Ukrainian forces with fighter jets if they needed them. He said the delivery of fighter jets was only a matter of time, and that providing weapons to Ukraine was essential for achieving peace.

"True, we all want peace. But the only way to peace is for Ukraine to win. And for that, it needs our weapons," Karins said.

The Latvian prime minister also said that the Baltic nation is aiming to spend 3% of its GDP on defense, more than the NATO goal of 2%.

As a "frontline state," Latvia has no choice, he said.

In December, the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania expressed their intention to increase their defense spending in response to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched by Moscow a year ago.

How NATO polices the skies on Russia's border

IEA chief says Moscow 'lost the energy battle'

Russia's position as a significant energy supplier has suffered a permanent setback following the West's abandonment of Moscow's oil and gas due to its war in Ukraine, according to the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol.

In an interview published in the French newspaper Liberation, Birol said that "Russia has lost the energy battle."

He noted that Moscow's oil and gas exports have fallen by 40% since its military forces invaded Ukraine a year ago, adding that this is just the start of its problems.

Birol also emphasized that the departure of foreign experts from Russia would result in a decrease in oil and gas production without their technical support.

Russia cannot simply replace Europe, once the largest consumer, with Asia, the IEA head said, as it would take years to build pipelines from Western Siberia to China.

"Russia's role in international energy affairs will be much less important in the future," Birol said.

Ukraine ally favorite to win Estonia election

Polling stations opened across Estonia with the center-right Reform Party, led by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, is seen as the front-runner.

Kallas has gained international attention over the past year as a vocal supporter of Ukraine against its invasion by Russia.

Since taking office in 2021, Kallas has been advocating for sanctions against Moscow, a stance that has raised her profile and boosted her standing in the polls.

Her party is expected to win the most votes in the general election, according to recent polling.

However, Kallas is facing a challenge from the populist opposition party EKRE. The party is pushing for a reduction in Estonia's involvement in the Ukraine crisis and is blaming the government for the country's economic struggles.

ar, ss/fb (AP, dpa)