Ukrainian forces continued to hold their ground in Bakhmut, the military said on March 8, despite claims by Russian mercenaries that they are holding the eastern part of the city in the Donetsk region, as the European Union readies plans to supply much-needed ammunition to Ukraine.
Ukrainian defenders repelled more than 100 enemy attacks over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its daily battlefield report, with Bakhmut and its surroundings the focal point of Russia’s offensive in the east.
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“Unsuccessful [Russian] offensive actions continue in the districts of Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Dubovo-Vasylivka, Bakhmut, Kamyanka, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka in the Donetsk region,” the military said.
The Russian Army, despite significant losses, continues its assault on Bakhmut, it said.
On March 6, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced that the military-political leadership of the country decided to continue the defense of Bakhmut .
Ukrainian leaders continue to insist that their troops are holding on in Bakhmut even as the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner said early on March 8 that his forces, who have been leading the assault on the city, had managed to take its eastern part.
“Wagner units have taken all the eastern part of Bakhmut, all that’s east of the Bakhmutka river” that bisects the town, Wagner chief and Kremlin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio message released by his press service.
There was no independent confirmation of Prigozhin’s claim.
On March 6, Zelenskiy indicated in a video address that Kyiv was looking to send more troops to Bakhmut, saying his military commanders agreed with the strategy in the face of comments from some outside the country that Ukraine should consider pulling out before its forces can become cut off and surrounded.
Both sides are believed to have suffered heavy losses in the battle for the city, which had a prewar population of 70,000, but has now largely been deserted as civilians flee the fighting.
Separately, Kyiv said on March 7 it had secured the release of 130 Ukrainian troops, including four women, in its latest prisoner swap with Russia.
The Russian Defense Ministry said 90 of its troops captured by the Ukrainian armed forces were released in the swap.
In Stockholm, EU defense ministers are preparing to discuss on March 8 plans to send Ukraine 1 bilion euros ($1.05 billion) worth of ammunition.
The ministers will be joined by their Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksiy Reznikov, to discuss ways to meet Kyiv’s immediate needs and the European defense industry for the longer term to ensure an uninterrupted flow of ammunition for Kyiv.
Ukraine is currently facing a critical shortage of 155-millimeter howitzer shells, the staple of the ammunition used in the battle for Bakhmut and other eastern objectives.
Existing European funds will need to be prioritized for procuring ammunition for Ukraine before any decision on fresh funds can be expected, the EU’s top diplomat said on March 8.
“The first thing to do is to use what we have. If member states are ready to provide more, I will be happy. But today let’s be realistic and pragmatic, and discuss about the things that can be adopted today,” Josep Borrell said ahead of the meeting.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who arrived late on March 7 in Ukraine, is to meet with Zelenskiy on March 8.
Guterres and Zelenskiy are “to discuss the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in all its aspects, as well as other pertinent issues,” deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said on March 7.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal to ensure that Ukraine can keep shipping grain to global markets, was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July 2022 and was extended in November, but it is due to expire on March 18 unless an extension is agreed.
The visit is the third by Guterres after trips to Ukraine in April and August last year following Russia’s invasion on February 24, 2022.
Guterres spent March 7 in Poland, where leaders there announced that Warsaw would send 10 Leopard 2 tanks this week to Ukraine.
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