Ukrainian battalion commander Oleg Shiryaev warned his men in nearby trenches that Russian forces were advancing across a field toward a patch of trees outside the city of Bakhmut.
The leader of the 228th Battalion of the 127th Kharkiv Territorial Defense Brigade then ordered a mortar team to get ready. A target was locked. A mortar tube popped out a loud orange blast, and an explosion cut a new crater in an already pockmarked hillside.
“We are moving forward,” Shiryaev said after at least one drone image showed a Russian fighter struck down. “We fight for every tree, every trench, every dugout.”
Russian forces declared victory in the eastern city last month after the longest, deadliest battle since their full-scale invasion of Ukraine began 15 months ago. But Ukrainian defenders like Shiryaev aren’t retreating. Instead, they are keeping up the pressure and continuing the fight from positions on the western fringes of Bakhmut.
The pushback gives commanders in Moscow another thing to think about ahead of a much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive that appears to be taking shape.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Russia sought to create the impression of calm around Bakhmut, but in fact, artillery shelling still goes on at levels similar to those at the height of the battle to take the city. The fight, she said, is evolving into a new phase.