Ukraine’s armed forces said they had repelled 45 Russian attacks over the past 24 hours, as Bakhmut and Avdiivka remained the epicenter of fighting on Wednesday and Ukrainian aircraft had launched seven strikes on Russian forces and two command posts.
The founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recently claimed his forces had captured Bakhmut, a mining city and logistics hub, “in a legal sense.” Ukraine has repeatedly denied Russians control the city, while acknowledging they have taken over at least half of it.
“In the Bakhmut sector, there was no letup in enemy actions aimed at storming the city of Bakhmut. At least 20 enemy attacks were repelled here alone over the past 24 hours,” the Ukrainian general staff said in a report on Facebook.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield report.
The battle for Bakhmut has been one of the bloodiest of the conflict with heavy casualties on both sides and the city largely destroyed. Ukrainian officials have described Avdiivka, a city further south, as devastated by Russian shelling.
But Ukraine welcomed the accession to the NATO alliance of Finland, which shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, 13 months after Russia invaded Ukraine, partly in response to what Russia called the alliance’s aggressive expansion eastward.
“I congratulate all the people of Finland,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his evening address. “Russian aggression clearly proves that only collective guarantees, only preventive guarantees, can be reliable.”
Russia responded by threatened “counter-measures.”
On the edge of a part of Donetsk province under Russian control, Bakhmut had a population of 70,000 before Russia invaded.
Russian forces, bogged down in a war of attrition after a series of setbacks, are seeking a victory from their winter offensive but have suffered huge casualties around Bakhmut.
Ukrainian military commanders have said their own counteroffensive – backed by newly delivered Western tanks and other hardware – is not far off but have stressed the importance of holding Bakhmut and inflicting losses in the meantime.
The Ukrainian general staff said Russian forces had staged 28 air attacks in the past 24 hours, including 17 by drones, as Russia has been launching Iranian-made Shahed unmanned aerial vehicles. Ukraine claimed it had downed 14 of them.
Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the neighboring nation of Nazis.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides have been killed. Russia has destroyed Ukrainian cities and forced millions of people to flee their homes, and it claims to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine.
The West calls the war an unprovoked assault to subdue an independent country and has provided Kyiv with weapons while seeking to punish Russia with sanctions.
Russia in turn has accused the West of trying to drive a wedge between Russia and China, and attempting to wreck Russia’s planned summit with African countries.
Moscow had also accused Ukrainian intelligence of organizing the killing of pro-war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in a bomb blast, which Ukraine denied. On Tuesday, Russian investigators charged St. Petersburg resident Darya Trepova, 26, with terrorist offences over the blast and remanded her in pre-trial detention.
Washington unveiled $2.6 billion more in military assistance for Zelenskiy’s government on Tuesday, including three air surveillance radars, anti-tank rockets and fuel trucks.
The Russian embassy in Washington reacted to the announcement by accusing the United States of wanting to drag out the conflict as long as possible, Russian news agency TASS said.
The United States has pledged more than $35.2 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion.
NATO welcomed Finland as its 31st member in a flag-raising ceremony at its headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels on Tuesday.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the Finns – after decades of strategic non-alignment – to seek security under the umbrella of NATO’s collective defence pact, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Russia, which has watched successive waves of NATO enlargment since the Cold War ended three decades ago, has also said it would strengthen its military capacity in its western and northwestern regions in response to Finland’s accession.
Separately, the Kremlin said Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko would travel to Moscow on Wednesday for two days of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.