Battle for Ukraine's Bakhmut 'utter hell'

STORY: Ukraine said on Monday its troops were still holding out in a brutal fight for Bakhmut -- the eastern city that has become the main target of Russia's invading forces, seen by both sides as a crucial win in the year-long war.

Ukrainian troops have fought back as Russia tried to surround Bakhmut to secure what would be its first major gain in more than half a year... the end of a winter offensive that has brought the bloodiest fighting of the war.

A Ukrainian commander in Bakhmut described the battle as "utter hell."

A spokesman for a Ukrainian brigade operating near Bakhmut said the near-constant Russian assaults had so far failed.

“It is clear that the enemy faces a shortage of ammunition, but it still has some. It wants to destroy our infrastructure, logistics paths and access to our positions, but it does not have enough resources to do it.”

With thousands of shells fired daily along the eastern and southern fronts, the intense battle has depleted both sides' artillery reserves. Kyiv's European allies are working on a deal to procure more ammunition for the fight...

While the dwindling supplies have stoked a deepening rift between Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia's top military brass.

Prigozhin has sent tens of thousands of Russian convicts into battle around Bakhmut, and has accused Russian ministry officials of "treason" for failing to supply enough ammunition to his forces. The ministry has denied the claims.

Prigozhin said Monday his representative had been denied access at Russia's operational headquarters.

There was no immediate response from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

While Russia has made gains in recent weeks, Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would be a step towards its major objective of seizing the full territory of the surrounding Donbas region.

But Washington said Monday that even if Russia succeeds in capturing the city, it would not necessarily give Moscow momentum in the war.

Speaking to reporters in the Middle East, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Bakhmut held more of a "symbolic value" than operational or strategic value.