Ukraine orders immediate evacuation of civilians in Bakhmut

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vershchuk said residents are risking their lives by remaining in the strategic town

Ukrainian soldiers
Ukrainian soldiers walk along a street in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023.LIBKOS (AP)

The Ukrainian government has asked civilians residing in the town of Bakhmut, the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Ukraine war, to evacuate immediately in order to save their lives and not to hinder the work of the military.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vershchuk on Thursday night called on Bakhmut residents to leave the city due to the “heavy fighting” from Russian troops, who are attacking residential areas. On Thursday alone, five civilians were killed and nine wounded.

“They must evacuate immediately, because by staying, they are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk, especially children, who are forced to stay,” said Vershchuk. The deputy prime minister added that the presence of civilians in the area “creates additional problems and risks” for emergency and rescue teams, explaining that the military cannot carry out their work as they “have to constantly check” the safety of civilians.

Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, once famous for its salt mines and sparkling wines, is today the hottest spot on the front lines of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Of the 70,000 to 80,000 people who lived in Bakhmut before the invasion, only around 7,000 remain, according to local authorities.

Following the capture in June and July of the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, in the Luhansk region – Moscow’s biggest victories in Donbas – Russian troops started a vicious siege of Bakhmut, which had become the military center for the whole area with a large hospital to treat the wounded from various sections of the front. Moscow’s strategy in Bakhmut is the same as was employed in Luhansk; also in Grozny, Chechnya in the 1990s; in Aleppo, Syria between 2015 and 2016, and identical to the battle for Mariupol: besiege, bombard and raze the city to the ground until resistance is broken.

On the Kremlin’s map of full-scale war in Ukraine, Bakhmut does not appear to hold significant geopolitical value, although it serves as a logistics hub for the Ukrainian Army and losing it would complicate further efforts to push Russian forces back as well as cutting off supply lines to several areas of the front. Should Moscow succeed in capturing the city, shutting down that hub will be a blow to Kyiv but it will also serve as a symbolic and psychological victory after a string of battlefield defeats for Russian troops.

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