Russian Forces Assault World War I Hellscape At Bakhmut


In October, the city of Bakhmut is now virtually the sole focus of major Russian offensive operations in Ukraine. Last Saturday, Ukraine’s military reported repelling eleven separate attacks on Bakhmut and Avdiivka to the south.

For months, Russian tanks and troops have repeatedly assaulted the Donetsk Oblast city and its approaches, inching gradually forward even after Ukrainian forces liberated large swathes of territory to its northeast.

After five months of shelling and direct attacks that began in May, Bakhmut and its surrounding towns and farmland have come to resemble a war-torn World War I battlefield. Ukrainian soldiers repel waves of Russian Wagner mercenaries and tanks backed up by massive artillery barrages from the cover of complex trench systems, surrounded by a shell-torn landscape of leafless trees, mud and impact craters.

On October 13, Russian troops managed to penetrate into Bakhmut’s outlying southern suburbs of Ivanhrad and Optyne, only to be ejected by counterattacks by Ukraine’s recently rotated-in 93rd Brigade.

The town of Bakhmut itself is thoroughly shelled out and no longer has running water or electricity. On October 14, a fresh Russian bombardment destroyed its historic College of Transport and Infrastructure.

Other landmarks damaged or destroyed by Russian shelling and missiles include a machine-building plant, a trolleybus depot, the Metalurh stadium, a hotel, the Martynov Palace of Culture, the city’s central market, and many shops and residences.

Destruction of a bridge in Bakhmut has made resupply of its defenders difficult. Ukraine has established a pontoon bridge to ease the flow of supplies.

Only 20,000 civilians remained in Bakhmut, out of 80,000 prior to the war, when the Russian siege began in earnest in May. While even more have evacuated, some—particularly the elderly—refuse to leave.

The battle has been costly for both sides. A Ukrainian medic told Estonian journalists he and his colleagues were having to stabilize 130 wounded personnel daily, of which 90% can be saved.

Recently, elements of five Ukrainian brigades have held the defensive positions around Bakhmut including:

  • 30th Mechanized Brigade (one T-72AMT tank battalion and three mechanized battalions)
  • 57th Motorized Infantry Brigade (three motorized infantry battalions)
  • 58th Motorized Infantry Brigade (one tank and three infantry battalions)
  • 80th Air Assault Brigade (three air assault battalions mounted in BTR-80 APCs)
  • 93rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade (one tank, three mechanized (BMP-1) and one motorized infantry battalions)

In the clip below you can see infantry and a T-64BV tank of the 93rd mechanized engaging Russian forces near an asphalt plant.

At least two artillery brigades provide fire support:

The Russian attacks are primarily spearheaded by Wagner mercenaries and separatist troops (many forcibly conscripted) of the Luhansk People’s Republic. Some identified units involved in these assaults include:

  • LPR 6th “Cossack” Motor Rifle Regiment
  • LPR 14th “Prizrak” Territorial Defense Battalion (decimated in June)
  • 27th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (1 T-90A tank battalion, 3 motor rifle battalions with BMP-3s, BTR-82As, BTR-80s)
  • 31st Air Assault Brigade (3 airborne battalions, BMD-2 and BMD-4)
  • 137th Air Assault Regiment of 106th Airborne Division (decimated September)
  • 144th Motor Rifle Division (1 tank and 2 rifle regiments with T-72 tanks, BTR-82A APCs)
  • 150th Motor Rifle Division (2 tank and 2 rifle regiments, T-72B3s, BMP-3s, BTR-82As)
  • 45th Engineering Camouflage Regiment

These frontal wave assaults have incurred heavy losses.

In mid-October, Russian TOS-1A vehicles unleashed extremely destructive thermobaric rockets on Ukrainian positions.

Videos also show Russian kamikaze drones have actively targeted Ukrainian artillery and armored vehicles near Bakhmut.

Presently, Russian units appear to be positioned a short distance outside southern and eastern Bakhmut but have yet to secure a lasting foothold in the city itself.


The Big Picture: Offense, Defense and Bakhmut

By October, it’s clear Russian forces are dangerously overstretched and vulnerable to counterattacks in multiple sectors across Ukraine. In September, Ukrainian forces overran a weak Russian garrison in Kharkiv province forcing Russian troops concentrated in Izium and (eventually) Lyman to retreat. Then in October in southern Ukraine, another surprise offensive forced Russian troops to fall back 20 miles out of northeastern Kherson province.

Thus, it has mystified Western military analysts why Russian forces doggedly, even “robotically”, continue to assault heavily entrenched Ukrainian positions around Bakhmut at great cost and for only marginal gain.

True, before Ukraine’s offensives in September-October, the fall of Bakhmut seemed inevitable. But now that Russia’s situation is so precarious nearly everywhere else, the continued expenditure of men and materiel for marginal gains seems foolish.

Yes, in theory Bakhmut’s fall would open a corridor down the M03 highway to attack the strategically and symbolically important cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk 20 miles to the northwest. However, Russia’s ability to exploit that seems doubtful as other Russian forces previously threatening Slovyansk from the north (from Izium) and east (from Lyman) were driven out in September.

Nonetheless, while most attacks are repelled, Russian forces have inched closer and closer to Bakhmut, even as the armies covering their flanks seem more and more vulnerable.

Perhaps Russia’s military is desperate to claim any sort of offensive victory at a time it’s mostly compelled to be on the defensive. Online, pro-Russian bloggers and propagandists excitedly seize on reports of progress towards Bakhmut, emphasizing the rosy news (from their perspective) amidst grim reports coming from all other fronts. On multiple occasions, pro-Russian sources have falsely reported the fall of Bakhmut.

Despite the huge strain on Bakhmut’s defenders, Ukraine’s military seems to believe Russia’s assault there is barbed lodestone bleeding resources away from more critical fronts. Despite Ukraine’s declared intention to hold Bakhmut, some commanders have admitted they’re willing to risk losing the city if it comes at sufficiently heavy cost to Russian forces and tolerable casualties for its own.

That’s likely why rather than diverting additional reserves to counterattack around Bakhmut, it’s seemingly husbanding reserves for an offensive elsewhere. If such a new attack meets with sufficient success, it may finally compel Russia’s military to give up its ceaseless assaults, giving Bakhmut’s defenders brief respite.

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