As counteroffensive looms, Ukraine vows not to give up Bakhmut

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Zelenskiy speaks with Commander of the Ground Forces colonel general Syrskyi in the recently liberated town of Izium

By Olena Harmash

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine's military vowed on Tuesday not to give up the pulverised eastern city of Bakhmut as it prepares to launch a long-promised counteroffensive against Russian forces.

General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of ground forces, underlined the importance Kyiv attaches to holding Bakhmut as preparations continue for a counterattack which it hopes will change the dynamic of the war.

The battle has symbolic importance for both sides, with Ukraine still holding on to some parts of the city after months of fierce fighting against regular Russian troops and the Wagner mercenary force.

"Together with the commanders, we have made a number of necessary decisions aimed at ensuring the effective defence and inflicting maximum losses on the enemy," Syrskyi said in remarks released after a visit to troops in Bakhmut.

"We will continue, despite all the forecasts and advice, to hold Bakhmut, destroying Wagner and other most combat-capable units of the Russian army," he said.

Syrskyi said on Monday Ukrainian units had ousted Russian forces from some positions in Bakhmut.

Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar said control of some parts of Bakhmut was changing hands.

"There are positions lost, and positions we are driving the enemy out of. Fierce fighting continues - as of now, the city is controlled by our armed forces," she told the WeUkraine television channel.

Wagner units advanced up to 160 metres (yards) in some directions on Tuesday, founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on the Telegram messaging app, repeating claims that Ukrainian forces now control less than three sq km (1.2 sq miles) of Bakhmut.

Prigozhin also repeated his complaints that Moscow was not supplying his forces with enough ammunition.

Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield situation.

Russia sees Bakhmut, once home to 70,000 people, as a stepping stone to attacking other Ukrainian cities.

The White House said on Monday Russia had exhausted its military stockpiles and armed forces, with some 100,000 Russian troops killed or wounded in Ukraine in the past five months, based on U.S. intelligence estimates.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the White House figures.

(Additional reporting by Nick Starkov, David Ljunggren and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Grant McCool)