March 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine and Russia on Saturday claimed hundreds of enemy soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours in the fighting for Bakhmut, as Kiev relentlessly repulsed attacks and a small river dividing the town now formed the new front line. .
Serhiy Chervaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, said that 221 pro-Moscow soldiers were killed and more than 300 wounded in Bakhmut. Russia’s Defense Ministry said up to 210 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Donetsk region, wider than the front line.
While Bakhmut’s losses were not determined by Moscow, the eastern town of Donetsk, now almost deserted, was the site of one of the bloodiest and longest battles of the year-long war.
Both sides have admitted to suffering and inflicting great losses on Bakhmut, while the exact number of casualties is difficult to verify independently.
British military intelligence said on Saturday that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has taken control of most of the eastern part of Bakhmut – an advance claimed by the group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin on Wednesday.
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“In the city centre, the Pakhmutka River now represents the front line,” the British Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin.
Ukraine insisted that it was still holding out in Bakhmut and that it was providing a “decent fend off” to the Russian forces, with the commander in charge of Bakhmut’s defense saying that protecting it was key to Ukraine’s counterattack.
“It is necessary to buy time to accumulate reserves and start a counterattack, which is not far,” the military quoted Colonel Oleksandr Sersky as saying on Saturday.
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would blow a hole in Ukrainian defenses and would be a step toward capturing the entire industrial Donbass region, a key objective. Kiev says the battle crushes the best Russian units.
Prigozhin said on Saturday that he was now 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) from the city’s administrative center. The center is located on the western side of the Pakhmutka River.
With the river running through some open land, British intelligence said, “this area became a killing zone, probably making it very difficult for Wagner’s forces attempting to continue their frontal attack westward”.
But the situation remained dangerous for the Ukrainian forces.
It added, “Ukrainian power and its supply lines to the west remain vulnerable to continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south.”
Writing by David Leungren and Lydia Kelly; Editing by Grant McCall and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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