Russian forces edged closer to Bakhmut on Sunday, claiming to capture a village on the outskirts of the strategic city in eastern Ukraine and hammering nearby settlements with tank rounds, mortar fire and artillery shells.
The Wagner private military company, whose forces have been leading the brutal and monthslong Russian campaign to seize the city, said that its “assault units” had taken the village of Krasna Gora, on the northern edge of Bakhmut. The statement was made by the press service of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group’s founder, and included a video purporting to show Wagner fighters at the entrance to the village. Neither the claim nor the footage could be independently verified.
The Ukrainian military’s general staff said on Sunday that Russian forces had shelled Krasna Gora and two dozen other settlements near Bakhmut over the past day, continuing a pattern of intensifying strikes as Moscow begins to mount a renewed offensive in the east.
It said Ukrainian forces had repelled Russian attacks on Bakhmut, although Ukrainian soldiers in recent weeks have acknowledged that the city, which had a prewar population of about 70,000 people, could soon fall.
The city has become a national symbol of Ukrainian resistance, and an important prize for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who views Bakhmut as a step toward his objective of seizing all of the eastern Ukraine region known as Donbas.
Russia’s campaign for Bakhmut has seen months of withering bombardment and a huge influx of newly mobilized soldiers steadily chip away at Ukrainian defenses, and Russian forces now appear to have surrounded the city on three sides.
Capturing Bakhmut would be Russia’s first significant battlefield victory in months, but military analysts say it is not clear that it could pave the way to further advances for Moscow in eastern Ukraine. Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have suffered heavy losses in the campaign, one of the deadliest of the nearly yearlong war.
Moscow has thrown many inexperienced recruits and former convicts fighting for Wagner into the battle in an effort to reverse its military setbacks, according to U.S. and European officials, who this month assessed that the total number of Russian troops killed or wounded in 12 months of fighting was approaching 200,000. But with the fight grinding on, analysts say that regular Russian forces are increasingly prominent around Bakhmut.
Britain’s defense intelligence agency said on Sunday that over the past two weeks, “Russia has likely suffered its highest rate of casualties since the first week of the invasion of Ukraine.” The assessment was based on Ukrainian estimates of more than 800 Russian soldiers killed or injured daily during the past week, the agency said, figures that it could not verify but believed were “likely accurate.”
“The uptick in Russian casualties is likely due to a range of factors including lack of trained personnel, coordination, and resources across the front,” the agency said. This was apparent, it added, in the fighting in Bakhmut and around Vuhledar, a town 60 miles to the south, where Russia has deployed thousands of troops in an effort to protect a key supply line from artillery attacks by Ukrainian forces.
Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.