Oleksandr Chirsky, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said on his Telegram channel on Thursday.[Russians] Lose significant powers [in Bakhmut] and running out of energy.”
“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balaklia and Kubyansk,” he said.
His comments come days after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise trip to the front lines of the Donetsk region and will raise hopes in the West that Kyiv’s controversial decision to keep troops in Baghmut will pay off.
A counter-offensive seemed an unlikely prospect for weeks as Russia’s Wagner mercenary forces bombarded Pakmut and moved closer to taking control of the city.
But that effort has come at considerable cost in manpower and resources, and now seems to be slowing down.
Russian troops have launched more than 200 strikes in the past 24 hours alone, but are losing hundreds of men in their efforts every day, Serhii Serevaty, a spokesman for the armed forces’ Eastern Command, said later Thursday. CNN could not verify those figures.
Serewati said another area north-east of Bagmut, on the front line running north from the town of Greminna, saw intense fire.
“It’s not,” Serevaty said on Ukrainian television on Friday [Wagner] are retreating, but due to heavy losses must be reinforced by units of the regular army of the Russian Federation, primarily airborne troops.”
Russian forces in the area “carry out dozens of attacks every day. There were 32 firefights in the last day,” he said. Airstrikes were carried out by fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters, but “artillery was a more influential factor in military operations than aircraft,” he said.
On Thursday, the Ukrainian National Resistance Center — an official organization — said Wagner mercenaries had begun deporting residents of the Bagmud suburbs they control.
“Militants forcibly take local residents to captured areas of Luhansk region, where they are filtered. After that, they are deported to Perm (Russia) and other remote areas of the Russian Federation,” the center said. “The natives are deported under the purview of expulsion. After that, they are integrated into the far reaches of the empire because they are now dependent on the occupiers.” Unable to verify center request.
Ground forces commander Chirsky’s confidence echoed an update on Wednesday from the Ukrainian army’s general staff, which said in a statement that while Pakmut was still expected to see heavy fighting, Russia’s “offensive capabilities there are declining.”
“The enemy is trying to capture the city and is losing a significant amount of manpower, weapons and military equipment,” it said on Wednesday.
Western intelligence strikes a similar tone. “The pace of Russian operations around Bagmut appears to be slowing,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank wrote in its Wednesday update on the conflict.
But that shift may also signal a shift in Russia’s priorities. “There is a realistic possibility that the Russian attack on the city will lose what little momentum it has gained, as some Russian MoD units have been reallocated to other sectors,” the British Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday.
Zelensky presented awards to the troops protecting Buckmut during a morale-boosting trip on Wednesday. “It is an honor to support our soldiers who defend the country in difficult frontline situations,” he said later in his nightly speech.
The prolonged resistance of Ukrainian troops may yet prove his decision to ignore some Western calls for a tactical retreat from Bagmut as the Russian offensive ends.
“It’s tactical for us,” Zelensky told CNN earlier this month, laying out his decision-making and insisting that Kyiv’s military brass is united in maintaining the city’s security.
“We understand that after Bagmut they can go further. They can go to Gramadores, they can go to Slovians, after Bagmut it will be an open path for the Russians to other cities in Ukraine in the direction of Donetsk,” he said.
Ukrainian officials said on Friday that a town 20 kilometers west of Baghmut was also being hit with increasing frequency by Russian missiles.
Three people were killed in a Russian missile attack on the town of Konstantinivka in the Donetsk region, officials said.
CNN’s Tim Lister and Victoria Butenko contributed reporting.