By Quentin Sommerville
(BBC) – Ukraine has drawn a line in the dirt, and that line is Bakhmut. It is a city that few say matters strategically, but that tens of thousands have died fighting over. It began more than seven months ago, and is the longest battle of the war so far.
Two Ukrainian army brigades defending the city’s southern flank gave the BBC access to their positions last week as fierce fighting continued in and around Bakhmut. The men have spent months facing both regular Russian army forces, and prisoners recruited by the Wagner private military group who have swarmed their trenches in droves. Troops say Russian casualties far outweigh theirs, but the enemy is deploying new techniques to try to seize the city and surrounding countryside.
Ukraine’s forces are outgunned and outnumbered, but on a chalk hillside to the south, there is the anti-tank group from the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. 3Storm – as they are known – are unyielding. They’ve dug trenches deep into the earth. Timber props supporting the roof shudder as Russian artillery lands in the near distance, and field mice scurry along duck boards. An antiquated field telephone sits in a wooden nook; these are conditions their grandfathers would recognise.
“They cannot get to us, we can see for a kilometre in all directions,” says a bearded 26-year-old soldier who goes by the call sign “Dwarf”, pointing out Russian positions. “We can hit the enemy with everything we have,” he says.