Home » Ukraine update: Bakhmut is, once again, the hottest spot on the front lines

Ukraine update: Bakhmut is, once again, the hottest spot on the front lines

There are some places in Ukraine that just never seem to get a break, and for over a year, Bakhmut has been at the top of the list. There were months during which Russia gradually surrounded the city, capturing locations like Soledar to the north and Opytne to the south. There were more months in which Wagner Group forces sent one human wave after another to crash against defenses on the city’s east side, turning every address along Patrisa Lumumby Street into a landmark of destruction. Finally, there came the slow, block-by-block withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Bakhmut, with Russian artillery leveling the city in an effort to leave no position capable of defense.

As Wagner forces moved through Bakhmut, there were a series of absolutely desperate weeks in which Ukraine seemed barely able to reach its forces remaining inside the city. Russia moved through Krasna Hora and Paraskoviivka, cutting off the city from the north. Wagner forces crossed the T0513 highway on the south, then reached Klishchiivka, pushed through the high ground west of the town, and made the T0504 highway on the southwest impassable.

The last paved road into Bakhmut, from Chasiv Yar through Khromove, was briefly known as the “highway of life”—the sole means of getting supplies into Bakhmut and bringing both wounded and refugees out. Then, in the space of days, that same route became the “highway of death,” littered by burned-out hulks of vehicles struck by a rain of Russian artillery from captured Berkhivka and Yahidne.

As the city fell, it seemed like Bakhmut was about to become another city in the backfield of Russia’s slow advance, like Severodonetsk to the north. At Daily Kos, we were already writing about Ukraine’s next defensive position along the roads to Russia’s big targets at Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. But that’s not the way it happened.

For months, there was a grand argument boiling down to this: Why is Ukraine expending so much effort and so many lives defending Bakhmut? There was broad agreement when Russia first approached the city that it was not an important strategic target and hard as hell to defend, with approaches from every direction and the only natural barrier being a river so small it could almost be jumped.

It seemed entirely reasonable for Ukraine to shift its forces west and north, taking position on more defensible and valuable higher ground. And we didn’t hesitate to say so.

But clearly Ukraine’s leadership, right up to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, didn’t see it that way. They kept pouring resources into the city long after every armchair general and spreadsheet-driving analyst was declaring it a waste. Zelenskyy even made multiple personal visits to the city, with Russian forces very close at hand, to thank those defending Bakhmut and encourage them to hold out as long as possible.

As Ukraine dug in its heels, what became clear was that, even though the cost to Ukraine was tremendous, the cost to Russia was absolutely outlandish. Those wave attacks were costing Russia thousands at first, then tens of thousands, with the prison recruits of the Wagner Group bearing the principal costs. There were times when it seemed Russia could not possibly keep this up. But they did. There were times when it seemed Ukraine had no choice but to leave. They didn’t.

As Wagner forces moved to take the last “citadel” of Ukrainian holdouts in the city, and as Russian artillery pounded the final blocks into oblivion, it wasn’t just supporters of Ukraine looking for the next battlefield. Russian propagandists didn’t just say they were going to take Khromove and Chasiv Yar to Bakhmut’s west, they claimed they already had. Next stop: full Russian control of Donetsk oblast. With Ukraine down to a series of makeshift mud roads to get anything into or out of the area, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the area west of Bakhmut would soon be abandoned.

Only … no. Wagner Group completed a token capture of the city, then immediately withdrew to their tents on the east side of Bakhmut to fume and plan their upcoming trip to Moscow. Without those forces, Russia not only couldn’t continue the advance, they also couldn’t hold everything they had taken.

Ukraine counterattacked north, pushing back Russian troops in Berkhivka. It attacked on the northwest, regaining control of Orikhovo-Vasylivka. And most significantly, it pushed back on the south, driving Russian from the high ground west of Klishchiivka, crossing the canal near Andriivka, and eventually liberating both those towns. Here’s how Deep State has positions today.

Ukraine hasn’t only liberated over 100 square kilometers from Russian occupation. At the moment, Bakhmut is reportedly the hottest point of conflict anywhere along the line.

On Monday, there were two conflicting claims about the area, both found in this Telegram statement. “As a result of the successful actions of our troops, the enemy’s defense line was breached,” wrote a Ukrainian commander. Presumably, this doesn’t mean the main prepared defensive trenches, which are east of the line from Opytne to Odradivka as well as several kilometers from any known advance by Ukraine. Instead, he likely meant that in liberating Klishchiivka and Andrivka, Ukraine has placed Russia outside of defensible positions. Russia’s forces are now caught in a kind of trough east of Klishchiiva, with Ukraine able to fire down onto this lower ground.

Still, breaking through Russia’s defenses implies the kind of thing that should result in either a rout or a retreat, and as the same message points out, neither of these things are happening.

Fierce fighting continues in the Bakhmut region. After losing the settlements of Andriivka and Klishchiivka last week, the enemy is conducting numerous counterattacks from different directions, unsuccessfully trying to regain lost positions. After all, these small, at first glance, settlements were important elements of the enemy’s defensive line, which stretched from Bakhmut to Horlivka.

Even with Wagner gone, Russia still has a large number of forces around Bakhmut. It’s hard to tell how exhausted, undersupplied, or incomplete any of them may be, but if Russia is trying to reclaim Klishchiivka, they are doing it from a terrible position, pushing uphill against Ukrainian positions.

A relatively fresh Russian army might have pulled that off against a less experienced Ukraine a year ago. These are not those Russians. It’s not going to happen again.

It’s dead, Jim

Every time we get a closer look at Kilo-class submarine Rostov-on-Don, the idea that will soon be back in service becomes more laughable. If the images released on Monday are accurate, this isn’t something that’s going to buff out. It’s not something that is soon going to be repaired. In fact, it’s likely something that will never be repaired.

Oryx has moved the sub to the “destroyed” category. Which means it’s not merely dead, it’s really most sincerely dead. Even Miracle Max isn’t bringing this one back.

Remember the Kinburn Spit? This is that narrow point of land, not much more than a glorified sand bar, that pokes out from the delta of the Dnipro like a finger pointing to Odessa. When it controlled much of Kherson west of the river, Russia was able to position artillery here, but anything that moves on the Kinburn is now subject to a very active drone patrol.

The modern way of war.

A pair of 2S9 “Nona” self-propelled guns go for a ride courtesy of HIMARS.

Drone spotting. HIMARS precision. Scratch two.

This is in an area northeast of Donetsk, about 7 kilometers from the current front lines. Russia remains at a huge counterbattery disadvantage, with Ukrainian guns dramatically outranging Russia’s.


The Ukrainian General Staff reports Ukrainian forces successfully repelled multiple Russian attacks at:

  • Klishchiivka

  • Andriivka

  • Mar’inka

  • Robotyne

Everything else on Monday was either artillery or air strikes.


September 2023