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Zelenskiy says situation increasingly ‘difficult’ as Russia steps up assault on Bakhmut

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (The Presidential Office of Ukraine)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia’s offensive in the east is increasingly zeroing in on the Donetsk city of Bakhmut, the Ukrainian military said on February 28, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warning that the situation is becoming “extremely difficult” for the Ukrainian defenders of the city.

“Russia does not count people at all, sending them to constantly assault our positions. The intensity of the fighting is only increasing,” Zelenskiy said in his evening address.

Ukrainian forces repelled more than 60 attacks by Russian troops in the eastern region of Donetsk over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its morning briefing on February 28.

Russian attacks continue to focus on the Lymansk, Avdiyivka, and Shakhtarsk directions, but the main vector of the Russian assault remains Bakhmut, it added.

Zelenskiy said that “the enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions for fortification and defense” in the embattled city, which is in the eastern Donetsk region.

Russian troops have been trying to encircle Bakhmut, where fighting has picked up since last month, in an attempt to cut off the Ukrainian forces’ supply lines, but have met with fierce resistance.

“Our soldiers defending the area around Bakhmut are true heroes,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on February 27.

A U.S. Defense Department official on February 28 described the front line in Ukraine as a “grinding slog” and said he did not expect Russia to be able to make significant territorial gains in the near term.

“You may see small portions of territory change hands in the coming weeks and months,” Colin Kahl, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, told a U.S. House of Representatives hearing. “I do not think that there’s anything I see that suggests the Russians can sweep across Ukraine and make significant territorial gains anytime in the next year or so.”

Zelenskiy again called on Kyiv’s Western allies to supply Ukraine with warplanes that would allow Ukrainian forces to defend the entire country from “Russian terror.”

General Oleksandr Syrskiy, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said the situation in the Bakhmut area had become “extremely tense.”

“Despite suffering significant losses, the enemy has been throwing in combat the best-prepared assault units of Wagner [mercenaries], who are attempting to break through the defenses of our troops and surround the city,” Syrskiy said.

The General Staff said Russia conducted eight missile strikes and 32 air strikes over the past 24 hours in the east.

The Ukrainian Air Force launched four air strikes on Russian concentration areas, the General Staff said.

The previous day, the Ukrainian military noted that Russia was increasing the number of personnel in the east, sending fresh contingents of conscripts to the region of Luhansk.

“According to available information, up to 200 conscripts from the Rostov region have been transferred to the temporarily occupied territory of the Luhansk region,” the General Staff said in its evening report.