Russian artillery and rockets pounded the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut overnight and into Wednesday morning in what some sources speculated was a reprisal for a Ukrainian attack using a US-supplied Himars missile system on a Russian air defense site in Luhansk.
Others suggested the shelling could signal a renewed Russian offensive aimed at cities in Donetsk province.
In one video posted on social video around midnight from outside Bakhmut, constant rocket strikes can be seen illuminating the night sky and a woman’s voice is heard saying: “My mother is there! Fuck, fuck, fucking hell. ”
A man named Nikolai says: “Everything is on fire. They hit the power lines. ”
As the woman speaks again, apparently wanting to borrow a phone to call her mother, the man interjects. “Your mum is fucked. It’s Stupky [that’s getting hit]”He says, referring to a northern area of Bakhmut.
Describing the situation on his Telegram channel, the Donetsk governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said Russian forces were “constantly shelling the entire free territory of Donetsk region [with] Bakhmut district suffering the most ”.
According to Kyrylenko, one person died and five more were injured in the town, which has largely been evacuated.
The Russian military has been struggling to counter daily Ukrainian strikes on its ammunition dumps and command centers in recent days.
The Ukrainian strike on Luhansk city, which has been under the control of Russian-backed separatists since 2014, was confirmed by pro-Russian separatist officials in the city. A spokesperson for the separatist forces, Andrei Marochko, said the Ukrainian army had dealt a “massive blow” to the air defense system in Luhansk, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
The latest intelligence update from the UK’s Ministry of Defense was among those suggesting that the recent rise in violence may signal renewed Russian offensive efforts.
The MoD said: “In the Donbas [the collective name for Donetsk and Luhansk provinces], Russian forces will likely focus on taking several small towns during the coming week, including Siversk and Dolnya on the approaches to Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. The urban areas of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk likely remain the principal objectives for this phase of operations. ”
Bakhmat has long been regarded as a key target for Russian forces, sitting about 10 miles from the border with Luhansk province, which is now entirely occupied by Russia.
The MoD’s assessment was echoed by the latest assessment by the US-based thinktank the Institute for the Study of War, which suggested that recent shelling may be a preamble to a renewed Russian offensive. “Russian forces will likely continue to strike areas around Sloviansk to set conditions for a renewed offensive toward Sloviansk and Kramatorsk,” it said.
International attention has focused of late on the recent Ukrainian successes using the Himars system to target key Russian logistics and command and control networks. Some observers are suggesting that the use of Himars is marking a return to the successful hit-and-run tactics employed by Ukraine at the beginning of the war.
Ukraine has eight of the Himar systems-truck-mounted missile launchers with high accuracy-and Washington has promised to send four more.
In a lengthy Twitter thread, retired Australian general Mick Ryan said Himars were changing the character of the fighting by allowing Ukraine to hit Russian targets at a greater distance than before and in areas that had previously been denied to them by Russian air defense systems.
“[Ukrainians] are attacking the Russian weak points once again-its railway-centric logistics, its over-talkative battlefield generals, and its over-reliance on massed artillery to advance in the east, ”he wrote.
“One key target is command and control nodes, or in other words, command posts with senior Russian commanders. The ability to rapidly target these, once detected, and use the accuracy of the #HIMARS rockets to inflict maximum destruction is vital… Being an ammunition handler in a logistic depot is probably now the least desirable job in the Russian army. These psychological impacts have a cost on the effectiveness of a military organization. ”
Elsewhere, the death toll from a Russian rocket attack that struck a Donetsk apartment building on Saturday rose to 45, the emergency services agency said late on Tuesday. It said workers had found more bodies and also rescued nine people as they dug through the rubble of the five-storey building in Chasiv Yar throughout the day.
Many in the Donbas, a fertile industrial area, refuse – or are unable – to flee, despite scores of civilians being killed and wounded on a weekly basis.
Russian strikes also hit residential buildings in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and its surrounding region in the north-east, killing four civilians and wounding nine, Ukrainian officials said.
“The Russians continue their tactics of intimidating the peaceful population of the Kharkiv region,” the governor of Kharkiv, By Synyehubov, wrote on Telegram.
Russian forces also struck the southern city of Mykolaiv, hitting residential buildings. Twelve people were wounded by the shelling, with some of the rockets hitting two medical facilities, the regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said on Telegram.