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KYIV — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the shattered city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday — the key node in a 1,300 km frontline he says is the “hottest spot” in the war and epitomizes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to hurl his soldiers into suicidal attacks.
In a late-night video address Monday, Zelenskyy focused on Putin’s cold-blooded disregard for the lives of his forces at Bakhmut, noting that the Russian elite kept their own loved ones away from the slaughter.
“Since May, the occupiers have been trying to break our Bakhmut, but time goes by and Bakhmut is already breaking not only the Russian army, but also the Russian mercenaries who came to replace the wasted army of the occupiers,” he said, adding that Russia had now lost almost 100,000 soldiers. “For what? No one in Moscow can answer this question. And they won’t.”
“They wage war and waste people’s lives, other people’s lives, not of their loved ones, not their own lives, but the lives of others only because a group in the Kremlin can’t admit mistakes and is terribly afraid of reality. But reality speaks for itself,” Zelenskyy added.
Bakhmut was once a center of salt production and an important railway junction in the eastern province of Donetsk, but has now been mostly destroyed by daily bombardments. The flooded trenches and splintered trees across the scorched earth of the front bear striking resemblances to scenes from World War I.
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy gave awards on his unannounced visit to support the troops, his spokesman Sergii Nykyforov said in a statement to the Ukrainian state-owned Freedom TV channel.
“I think that the heroes of Bakhmut should receive the same thing that every person receives. I wish that their children, families — that everything would be normal for them, that there would be warmth, that there would be health. I would like to wish that there would be light, but in such a difficult situation, that there is light, then there is no light. The main thing is that there is light inside,” Freedom reported Zelenskyy as saying, posting a video of the award ceremony.
Ukrainian Army soldier Oleksandr Solonko used to be one of the Bakhmut defenders until last week when he started his long-awaited rotation. Just like many other Ukrainian fighters, he posted on social media about the Russian tactics of throwing their own soldiers to their deaths in so-called “meat waves,” Solonko claimed this has become the regular Russian tactics, not only in Bakhmut.
“They have been sending their recruits from Russian prisons into the suicidal attacks that not only deplete our military equipment, but also help the invading army to mark Ukraine’s firing positions,” Solonko told POLITICO.
This helps Russians to adjust artillery fire too. After the first suicidal wave, there may be new waves of attacks by the Russian army or the Kremlin-backed paramilitary group of Wagner mercenaries might enter the battle directly, Solonko said.
“The Russians are trying to break through to the south of the city to take the road to Kostyantynivka under fire control. This is a very important transport artery. They fail to do this,” Solonko added.
As for the morale of the Ukrainian troops that have to face the suicidal waves of Russians every day, Solonko claimed that it remained high despite all the horrors.
“If we retreat, give slack, there will be a new Bucha, a new Mariupol, new executions of civilians and other atrocities committed by the Russian occupiers. Therefore, they must be stopped here and now where we are and will be,” Solonko said.
“Despite all the difficulties, despite the cold, the threat of death, there is a clear awareness of the goal and destination. It helps to maintain proper morale,” he added.