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Frontline report: “Wagnerites” bombard high-rises in Bakhmut as Ukraine keeps pushing on the flanks

Situation in the Bakhmut sector as of 18 May 2023. Map: screengrab from the video.
Frontline report: “Wagnerites” bombard high-rises in Bakhmut as Ukraine keeps pushing on the flanks

On 18 May, the battle for Bakhmut intensified in Donetsk Oblast as Russia’s Wagner forces hit high-rises in the city, preparing for a storming operation, while Ukrainians opened a fourth line of attack on the flanks, prompting Russian troop relocation into the area.

Day 449: May 18

When it comes to Bakhmut, the situation is very dynamic. Yesterday Wagner forces started to fire at the last block of the high-rise buildings from tanks and artillery in order to prepare the region for the upcoming storming operations. Some sources indicate that in order to not lose men, Ukrainians temporarily withdrew their forces to Ivanivske, and once the artillery preparation ended, Ukrainians started reinforcing this region once again.

The Head of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin, also reported something similar. He said that because Ukrainians have unblocked the flanks and are controlling tactical heights around the city, they are essentially moving freely in an out of the city. He said that for this reason, the battle for the outskirts can be characterized as an encounter battle, where two forces are engaging as both of them are trying to move into the so-called Domino fortification. The situation is equally difficult for both parties. Ukrainians struggle to defend the outskirts because it is too dangerous to maintain a permanent presence there, while Russians struggle to move into the outskirts because Ukrainians control tactical heights around them. That is why Prigozhin said they would not be able to take Bakhmut this week.

And Ukrainians continue to push on the flanks. Today it was confirmed that they increased the scale of the operation once again and opened a fourth line of attack. Previously Ukrainians were advancing from Ivanivske, Bohdanivka, and Minkivka, and today they also started advancing from Fedorivka. The target of the first attack became Russian positions around Sakko and Vantsetti. Ukrainian artillery crews conducted artillery preparation in coordination with drone operators that helped to correct the fire. And after that, Ukrainians sent an assault unit reinforced with a tank to undermine Russian defense and clear the trenches after the tank had completed its job. By successfully establishing a bridgehead south of the Vasyukivka River, Ukrainians are setting conditions for an attack on Sakko and Vantsetti, and Mykolaivka, which will allow them to conveniently move along the tree lines and settlements, simultaneously opening access to the tactical heights. In fact, Ukrainians have already started undermining Russian defense in Paraskoviivka and Dubovo-Vasylivka with artillery strikes on warehouses and equipment and drone strikes on the trenches on the zero line. And this is exactly what Prigozhin predicted one week ago. Today he made a public appeal and very politely asked the High Command to hold Sakko and Vantsetti and prevent another collapse at all costs, at least for two days.

The reason why he is asking to hold at least this direction is that the collapsing flanks are putting significant strain on his reserves, as the Wagner Group has been plugging the holes around Bakhmut, in particular in the southern direction. Today it was confirmed that Wagner units reinforced Klischiivka. In fact, both Ukrainian and Russian fighters and commanders reported that Wagner reinforcements were the only thing that prevented an immediate collapse of Klischiivka. However, a fighter from the 24th Assault Brigade specified that most of the troops on the zero line are mobilized soldiers and former prisoners. He also said that a HIMARS strike caught the Wagner prisoner forces during relocation and liquidated up to 30% of their reserves.

Ukrainian Intelligence reported that in order to stabilize the situation and prevent further collapse of the front line, Russian forces started relocating their troops from Zaporizhzhia to Bakhmut. Independent monitoring organization, The Belaruski Hayun Project, reported the deployment of about 40 pieces of military equipment and at least 200 servicemen from Belarus in the direction of Luhansk.

Such developments have far-reaching implications. First of all, the relocation of additional forces to Luhansk explains consistent Ukrainian strikes on the city. In fact, yesterday, Ukrainians conducted another Strom Shadow missile strike. And secondly, the destabilization of the front line in the east prompted Russians to deliberately weaken their defense in the Zaporizhzhia region by relocating manpower away from the south. Maybe this is exactly what the Ukrainian High Command was planning to achieve.

In our daily frontline report, we pair up with the military blogger Reporting from Ukraine to keep you informed about what’s happening on the battlefield in the Russo-Ukrainian war.

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