video duration 03 minutes 13 seconds
Ukrainian soldiers defend the eastern industrial town of Bakhmut while Separatist forces are advancing in the war-torn Donetsk region after retaking a number of nearby villages.
Bakhmut — a wine and salt-mining town on the main road from Donetsk to the capital Kyiv that was once home to 70,000 people — would be a big asset if Russia has any hopes of securing the region after invading Ukraine in February.
Intense shelling was heard from the direction of Otradovka, Veselaya Dolina and Zaitsevo, which now appear to be in the hands of forces loyal to the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, now being annexed by Russia.
A Ukrainian artillery commander named Serhiy told Al Jazeera that Ukrainian soldiers are in Bakhmut because “it’s a key point.”
“Our task is the destruction of places where there is a concentration of manpower and batteries of firing positions,” he said.
The sound of explosions echoed through the empty streets of Bakhmut as Ukrainian forces went on patrol.
Another Ukrainian soldier named Nikolai said the Russians would “throw their entire forces on the city.”
“Artillery, air force, even helicopters are attacking our positions,” Nikolai said. “They try to approach day and night. And it’s their elite units and mercenaries. There are no more regular Russian soldiers.”
“Deadly Hide and Seek”
The Ukrainian military has been pushed back against Russian forces across frontlines in the south and east, including in parts of Donetsk, in recent weeks. Western weapons have helped the Ukrainian army reclaim more territory over the past month than Russian forces have captured in five months.
However, the defense of Bakhmut remains one of Ukraine’s greatest challenges on the Eastern Front.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Bakhmut, described the situation as a “deadly game of hide-and-seek” with both sides launching attacks.
Stratford pointed to a mobilized gun aimed at Russian supply and artillery positions up to 30 km (12 miles) behind Bakhmut and said: “It takes about 40 seconds for the shell to reach its target. The trajectory will be adjusted after receiving information from drones and observers monitoring the target zone.”
Russian shelling has continued over Bakhmut for weeks, forcing most people to flee.
“The shelling never stops,” said a woman from the city. “I’m staying here to take care of my mother. She is old and frail. Things have gotten a lot worse.”
‘How can we go?’
The residents of Bakhmut who remain behind are trying to stockpile the meager supplies of food and water for the forthcoming battle.
Igor Maksymenko’s water barrel leaked when it fell off his wire cart, but he managed to fix it, determined to take it to an apartment block where 25 people still live.
“Sometimes her [Russian-backed forces] Fire very close by, next to this store, right over our heads, and splinters mixed with dirt spray everywhere,” he said. “But we carry it on anyway. how can we go Where?”
Ukraine has made lightning-fast territorial gains in the east and south. On September 30, Ukrainian forces advancing from the captured town of Izyum surrounded the strategic town of Lyman in the eastern Donetsk region and captured it the following day after Russian personnel withdrew.
The advance of Ukrainian troops last week undermined a Kremlin claim that it had officially annexed Donetsk, neighboring Luhansk and the southern Zaporizhia and Kherson regions.
The four territories form a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and together make up about 20 percent of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month ordered a partial mobilization of Russian army reservists to bolster manpower on the front lines in Ukraine.
Under increasing pressure from his own supporters and others, Putin continued to reshuffle his military leadership. The state news agency Tass reported that a new commander had been installed in Russia’s eastern military district.