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Ukraine Resists Russian Aggression, Defends Bakhmut

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Ukraine is determined to fight for the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Monday, dismissing reports of a partial withdrawal and disagreement over their plans.

Battles have been taking place around the city for months, and if Russia takes control of the city, some military analysts say that the road to the main cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk will open for Russian forces. They will then be closer to the complete conquest of the Donetsk region.

Other experts, however, say that encircling cities is now impossible after Kremlin forces have been driven out of the Kharkiv region in the north — and that Bakhmut’s value will only be a symbolic morale boost to the Russians.

At a meeting of senior military officials, Zelensky said, he asked the commander of the regional grouping and the Ukrainian commander-in-chief how they proposed to proceed.

“Both generals responded not to withdrawal but to strengthening (our defences),” he said in his nightly address.

“The leadership supported this position unanimously. There were no other sites. I asked the Commander-in-Chief to find the appropriate forces to help our men in Bakhmut,” he added.

Zelensky held a meeting with Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny and the commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, Oleksandr Sersky, amid reports of disagreement over the way forward.

According to Russian military bloggers, parts of eastern, southern and northern Bakhmut were captured by Wagner’s mercenary forces, which before the war had a population of 74,000, but now has only 5,000 civilians amidst the ruins.

In a situation report on Monday, the Ukrainian General Staff said fighting continued in the area and there was no documented confirmation of the withdrawal.

The destroyed town itself, as well as several suburbs, were bombed by the Russian side.

Ukrainian officials said that Russia attacked other regions of Ukraine from the air overnight, with 13 of the 15 drones being shot down.

“The drones took off from the north,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ahnat said on television.

Kramatorsk, a city in the Donetsk region, still under full Ukrainian control, was hit particularly hard.

“Last night’s missile attacks destroyed a school and damaged 15 residential buildings,” the city’s mayor, Oleksandr Goncharenko, wrote on Facebook, adding that there were no deaths or injuries.

Ukraine’s leaders also reacted with horror to a video of the alleged shooting of a prisoner of war by Russian soldiers.

“War crimes are being planted in Russia,” the chief of the president’s office, Andrei Yermak, wrote on Telegram on Monday. He said that was an example of Russian weakness.

A confidant of Zelensky said, “For each of these war crimes, there will be a penalty. No one can get away with it.”

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters he was shocked after seeing the video.

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada, Dmytro Lubinets, described the alleged shooting as “an expression of insignificance and humiliation”.

He stressed that the killing of prisoners is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. He had sent the video to his international colleagues as evidence of “another war crime committed by Russia”.

The video cannot be independently verified.

The video was published by various media such as the internet portal Ukrainska Pravda. In it, a man in Ukrainian uniform shouted “Glory to Ukraine” and was then presumably killed by several shots.

Videos have surfaced in the past, which have been difficult to verify, of Ukrainian soldiers shooting Russian prisoners. Moscow also criticized these crimes, describing them as war crimes.

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which was almost completely destroyed by Russian bombing last year.

The Defense Ministry said Shoigu checked the work of construction crews in Mariupol during his tour of the eastern Donetsk region.

In a video released by the ministry, Shoigu can be seen in a newly built military hospital and in front of a civil defense building.

He was also said to have received an update on the construction of a water pipeline from Russia’s southern Rostov region to Donetsk.

There was growing criticism that those responsible for the war in Moscow were running it solely from their offices and paying no heed to the concerns of the soldiers and local population, whom Russia claims had liberated from Kiev.

Moscow said over the weekend that Shoigu had made visits to front-line areas in Donetsk. A silent videotape showed him alongside the chief of the general staff and commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Valery Gerasimov, as well as his deputy, Sergei Surovikin.

It was not possible to check how closely Shoigu was fighting.

The visit comes amid news of continuing disputes between the Wagner Mercenary Force and the Russian Defense Ministry.

There were reports on Monday of an alleged threat by Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to withdraw his unit fighting in front of Bakhmut and thus cause the front to collapse. However, it has been suggested that these are likely to be older statements by the oligarch.

The threat is said to have been made at the height of the conflict a few weeks ago, when mercenaries complained about insufficient supplies of ammunition from the Ministry.

But Prigozhin confirmed on Monday, via his Telegram press service, that the dispute is continuing.

He said his representative was denied access to the General Staff on Monday morning. However, he did not talk about withdrawing his units. “We will continue to destroy the Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut,” he said.

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