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Ukraine War: Russia Aiming To Force Ukraine To Withdraw From Bakhmut, Read Latest Updates

Russian forces have entered Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk province. Street fighting is going on but the city has not yet fallen to Russians. It's expected that Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Bakhmut.

Russian shelling in Bakhmut
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There are signs that Ukrainian forces are preparing to withdraw from embattled Bakhmut city in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk province. 

Civilians are fleeing Bakhmut on foot as travelling in a vehicle has become too dangerous as Russian forces are targeting roadways leading out of the city. 

Russian and Ukrainian forces have fought over Bakhmut for months. Fighting has been heavy lately and Russian forces have enetered suburbs of Bakhmut. 

Street fighting is going on inside Bakhmut but the city has not yet fallen, said Bakhmut Deputy Mayor Oleksandr Marchenko to BBC. He further said there are still around 4,000 civilians in the city without water, gas, or electricity. 

He added, "There is fighting near the city and there are also street fights...Currently there is no communication in the city so the city is cut out, the bridges are destroyed and the tactics the Russians are using is the tactic of parched land."

What's happening in Bakhmut?

A woman was killed and two men were badly wounded by shelling while trying to cross a makeshift bridge out of Bakhmut on Saturday, according to Ukrainian troops who were assisting them.

A Ukrainian army representative who asked not to be named for operational reasons told The Associated Press that it was now too dangerous for civilians to leave the city in Donetsk province by vehicle and that people had to flee on foot instead. Together with Luhansk, the Donetsk province makes up the eastern Ukraine's Donbas region that's now the main focus of the Russian campaign in Ukraine.

Bakhmut has for months been a key target of Moscow's grinding eastern offensive, with Russian troops, including large forces from the private Wagner Group, inching ever closer to Kyiv's key eastern stronghold.

An AP team near Bakhmut on Saturday saw a pontoon bridge set up by Ukrainian soldiers to help the city's few remaining residents reach the nearby village of Khromove. Later, they saw at least five houses on fire as a result of attacks in Khromove.

Ukrainian units over the past 36 hours destroyed two key bridges just outside Bakhmut, including one linking it to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining Ukrainian resupply route, according to U.K. military intelligence officials and other Western analysts.

Russian shelling over the months of fighting has also destroyed large parts of Bakhmut

The U.K. defence ministry said in the latest of its regular Twitter updates that the destruction of the bridges came as Russian fighters made further inroads into Bakhmut's northern suburbs, ratcheting up the pressure on its Ukrainian defenders.

Russia aim to make Ukraine abandon Bakhmut: Report

The think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on Sunday said that the Russians are at a position of advantage in Bakhmut. 

The ISW report said that the Russians are now carrying out a "turning move" aimed at forcing the abandonment of Bakhmut by Ukrainian forces. However, the control of the city is not yet very close, says the ISW report. 

Sharing a map showing the current territorial control and latest fighting, the ISW reported, "Russian forces appear to have secured a sufficient positional advantage to conduct a turning movement against parts of Bakhmut but have not yet forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw and will not likely be able to encircle the city soon."

In separate posts, the ISW said that the Russian forces threaten withdrawal routes of the Ukrainian forces at Bakhmut and that the Ukrainian withdrawal from Bakhmut is now likely.

The ISW reported, "A turning movement aims to force the abandonment of prepared defensive positions and is different from an encirclement, which aims to trap/destroy enemy forces...The Russians have, rather, managed to push close enough to critical ground lines of communication from the northeast to threaten Ukrainian withdrawal routes from Bakhmut in a classical turning movement.

"The Russians may have intended to encircle #Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian command has signaled that it will likely withdraw rather than risk an encirclement...ISW assesses that Ukrainian forces are far more likely to withdraw than to become encircled and that the Ukrainians might still be able to hold their positions in Bakhmut if they choose to try."

Besides Bakhmut, significant fighting is also taking place near Lyman, Lysychansk, Pokrovkse, and Spirne, as per ISW. 

If and when Bakhmut falls to Russians, it will be their biggest success in months. Recently, the forces have had some smaller successes in the region. 

The ISW reported that the Russians have captured Yahidne and Berkhivka in the region. 

Capturing Bakhmut would not only give Russian fighters a rare battlefield gain after months of setbacks, but it might rupture Ukraine's supply lines and allow the Kremlin's forces to press toward other Ukrainian strongholds in the eastern Donetsk region.

Humanitarian crisis in Bakhmut

As the fighting raged on, civilians remaining in the area spoke about their daily struggles amid near-constant enemy fire. 

Bakhmut resident Hennadiy Mazepa and his wife Natalia Ishkova both chose to remain in Bakhmut, even as fierce battles reduced much of the city to rubble. Speaking to the AP on Saturday, Ishkova said that they suffered from a lack of food and basic utilities.

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She said, "Humanitarian (aid) is given to us only once a month. There is no electricity, no water, no gas. I pray to God that all who remain here will survive."

Other updates in Ukraine War

At the United Nations on Friday, Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said UN humanitarian staff reported "intensive hostilities" near Bakhmut and say the organisation's few humanitarian partners on the ground are focusing on evacuating the most vulnerable people from the conflict area.

Also on Saturday, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited a command post of Russia's Eastern forces where he was briefed by regional commander Rustam Muradov, according to a video published by the ministry. The video did not disclose the command post's location.

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Elsewhere, Ukraine's emergency services reported Saturday morning that the death toll from a Russian missile strike Thursday that hit a five-story apartment building in southern Ukraine has risen to 11. The Main Directorate of Ukraine's State Emergency Service said in an online statement that rescuers overnight had pulled three more bodies from the wreckage, some 36 hours after a Russian missile tore through four floors of the building in the riverside city of Zaporizhzhia. It said that a child was among those killed, and that the rescue effort was ongoing.

Russian shelling on Saturday also killed two residents of front-line communities in the surrounding Zaporizhzhia region, the local military administration reported in a Telegram post.

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A 57-year old woman and 68-year-old man also died in Nikopol, a town further west that neighbours the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as Russian forces stationed there fired artillery shells and rockets at Ukrainian-held territory across the Dnieper river, regional Gov. Serhiy Lysak reported Saturday.

In the western city of Lviv, hundreds of kilometers from the war's front lines, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Saturday with the head of the European Union parliament. 

Hours earlier, Zelenskyy held talks with US Attorney General Merrick Garland and top European legal officials on how to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine.

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In a joint press briefing with Zelenskyy, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said that "all those responsible" for suspected Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, must be brought to justice before a durable peace is achieved.

Metsola voiced support for the EU's announcement Thursday that an international center for the prosecution of the crime of aggression - the act of invading another country - would be set up in The Hague to investigate Russia's invasion.

She also called for Ukraine to start negotiations on joining the 27-nation-bloc as early as this year, and urged Western nations to keep arming the country's military as it strives to keep Russian forces at bay in the east and south.

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"Ukraine's future is in the European Union. We will walk all the way with you," Metsola said on Twitter late Friday.

The EU agreed in June to put Ukraine on a path toward membership, setting in motion a process that could take years or even decades. 

However, Moscow's invasion and Ukraine's request for fast-track consideration have lent urgency to the negotiations. 

(With AP inputs)

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