Bakhmut town in eastern Ukraine would be big prize

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Bakhmut town in eastern Ukraine would be big prize

The forces loyal to the separatist Donetsk republic that is now annexed by Russia are now in the hands of intense shelling from the direction of Otradovka, Veselaya Dolina and Zaitsevo.

Bakhmut - a wine-producing and salt-mining town on the main road from Donetsk to Kyiv, once home to 70,000 people - would be a big prize if Moscow has any hope of securing the region.

Moscow's forces launched a push towards Bakhmut in August, and two weeks later the Ukrainian general staff admitted that the invading force had some success but still didn't take the town.

Since then, the narrative of the war in the east has changed, with headlines dominated by successful Ukrainian counteroffensives in the north, in Kharkiv region, and in the south on approaches to Kherson.

Russia seems to have the momentum in Bakhmut, but not in Bakhmut.

Ukrainian forces are still in charge and standing their ground, but there are persistent reports that Russian troops, including mercenaries from the Wagner company, have infiltrated the east bank.

My home district of Zabakhmutka is over there and I haven't been able to reach my house for about two months, said 29 year-old humanitarian volunteer Edvard Skoryk, who has been walking across the river.

The eastern part of town has been hit hard, the eastern part. There are street battles every night, one hundred percent, that's what I know, he told AFP.

Skoryk handed out a handful of loaves of bread to civilians heading across the river, some of them pushing bicycles or heaving 20 L water cooler refills on flimsy trolleys.

He had another mission, working for the Ukrainian humanitarian group Vostok SOS, evacuating vulnerable residents from shell-damaged flats to get them out of Bakhmut before the battle gets even more intense.

He jumped in a white van and set off. Many of the main streets of Bakhmut are blocked with steel tank traps and slabs of concrete reinforced by heaps of brick rubble, forcing him to weave the van at speed through yards and back lanes.

Genya, I'm already in Bakhmut, he shouted into his phone. If they're okay to go now, I can pick them up. In a nine-storey concrete housing block, part of a residential district near the town centre, he climbed the stairs to an upper-storey flat to find an old man and his dog who needed to be evacuated from the city.

Ivan Solovyankov is 90 and has been unable to leave Bakhmut because of the bombardment. Skoryk drove him out of the city towards the city of Dnipro, from where he can get a train to the relative safety of Kharkiv.

The Bakhmut residents who are behind are trying to stockpile meagre supplies of food and water before the battle ahead.

Igor Maksymenko's water barrel springs a leak as it tumbles from his wire trolley on the descent to the rickety bridge, but he manages to correct it, determined to bring it to the east bank for an apartment block still housing 25 people.

Sometimes they fire really close, next to that store, just above our heads, and shrapnel mixed with dirt sprays everywhere, he said. We keep on lugging it.