Soldados ucranianos se preparam para atirar, perto da cidade de Bakhmout, em 4 de março de 2023. AFP - ARIS MESSINIS

(RFI) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday (5) that his Army is fighting a “painful and difficult” battle against Russian forces in the Donbass region in the east of the country, where Bakhmout, disputed by Russia for months, is located. The city is still holding out, but the siege is tightening. RFI spoke to civilians in Chassiv Yar, a village full of Ukrainian artillery, 15 kilometers from the front and which may fall soon after Bakhmout.

On Sunday, the Ukrainian president saluted the bravery of his men. “I would like to pay special tribute to the bravery, strength and resilience of the soldiers fighting in the Donbass,” Zelensky said in his daily statement.

Russian troops continue to try to surround the symbolic city of Bakhmout, the epicenter of the war in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian Army reported Sunday, assuring that it has repelled further attacks. In its daily report, the Ukrainian General Staff said that “more than 130 enemy attacks” have been repelled in the past 24 hours, in various sectors of the front, such as Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmout and Avdiïvka. “The enemy continues its attempts to surround the city of Bakhmout,” the report said, without further details.

Meanwhile in Chassiv Yar, not far from the front, Alina doesn’t even want to think about the possible arrival of the Russians in her neighborhood. “Come in, come in!” she invites, with a big smile, smoking a cigarette in front of her grocery store, as if nothing is happening. “After all, why should I care? The soldiers are there, why wouldn’t I just keep living normally? Yes, yes, I am a little crazy,” she admits. “But everyone helps as they can. Me, I get scared by the guns, but I stay here and eat bread and sausage,” she says.

“They won’t get that far! The army will stop them,” she believes. Alina wants to keep her spirits up, but for 15 days the city has been without electricity, there is no more heating, no more running water, and the hospitals can’t accommodate all the wounded. “But don’t worry, we have a first aid kit. I’ll do whatever you want: doctor, nurse, technician. Yes, yes, we’ll put a bandage on, we’ll disinfect and that’s it,” says Alina, laughing.

The siege closes in on Bakhmout

In recent weeks, Russian forces have advanced north and south of Bakhmut, cutting off three of the four Ukrainian supply routes and making the defenders’ position increasingly precarious.

The pro-Russian separatist Army of Donetsk, which supports Russian forces, published a video purporting to show fighters from the Russian paramilitary group Wagner in the northern suburb of Bakhmout, claiming that the small railway station of Stoupky, had been conquered.

On Friday, the Wagner paramilitary group assured that it had “virtually surrounded” the town.

Villages north and west of Bakhmout were attacked, Serhii Tcherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, confirmed to CNN on Saturday. He said that although the situation in Bakhmout is “difficult,” it remains “under control.”

“The Russians could try to encircle Ukrainian forces in Bakhmout, but the Ukrainian command has given the signal that it would rather withdraw than risk a siege,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a group of American experts, estimated, also on Saturday.

The battle for Bakhmout, an industrial city whose strategic importance is disputed, has been going on since the summer. The town has become a symbol because it has been at the center of the struggle between Russians and Ukrainians for months.

(With information from RFI and AFP)

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