Civilians flee embattled town of Bakhmut as Ukrainian pullout looms

Ukrainian troops in a military vehicle drive down a road past buildings.
Ukrainian troops on Saturday head toward front-line positions near Bakhmut.
(Evgeniy Maloletka / Associated Press)

Pressure mounted Saturday on Ukrainian troops and civilians hunkering down in Bakhmut, as Kyiv tried to help residents flee amid what may be preparations for a Ukrainian withdrawal from the eastern city Russian forces have tried to capture for months.

A woman was killed and two men were badly wounded by shelling Saturday while trying to cross a makeshift bridge out of Bakhmut, 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 civilians had to flee on foot as it was too dangerous to leave the city by vehicle.

Bakhmut has for months been a 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 Bakh-mut on Saturday saw a pontoon bridge set up by Ukrainian soldiers to help the 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 previous 36 hours destroyed two bridges outside Bakhmut, including one linking it to the town of Chasiv Yar along the last remaining Ukrainian resupply route, according to U.K. military intelligence officials and other Western analysts.

The U.K. Defense Ministry said in a Twitter update that the destruction of the bridges came as Russian fighters made inroads in Bakhmut’s northern suburbs, ratcheting up the pressure on Ukrainian defenders.

The war in Ukraine has jacked the global arms trade, fueling a new appetite for materiel not just in Moscow and Kyiv but also around the world.

The Institute for the Study of War assessed late Friday that Kyiv’s actions may point to a Ukrainian pullout from parts of the city. The Washington-based think tank said Ukrainian troops may “conduct a limited and controlled withdrawal from particularly difficult sections of eastern Bakhmut” while seeking to inhibit Russian movement there and limit exit routes to the west.

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

As the fighting raged on, civilians remaining in the area spoke of daily struggles amid near-constant enemy fire. Natalia Ishkova and her husband chose to remain in Bakhmut, even as fierce battles reduced much of the city to rubble. Speaking to the AP on Saturday, Ishkova said they suffered from a lack of food and basic utilities.


“Humanitarian [aid] is given to us only once a month. There is no electricity, no water, no gas,” she said. “I pray to God that all who remain here will survive.”

Also on Saturday, Russia’s defense chief traveled to Ukraine’s embattled east to inspect troops and present them with state decorations, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited a command post where he was briefed by the eastern regional commander, Rustam Muradov, according to a video published by the ministry. The video did not disclose the command post’s location.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service reported Saturday morning that the death toll from Thursday’s Russian missile strike on a five-story apartment building in the south of the country has risen to 11.

The agency said in an online statement that rescuers had pulled three more bodies from the wreckage 36 hours after a Russian missile tore through four floors of the building in the riverside city of Zaporizhzhia. A child was among those killed. The agency said the rescue effort was ongoing.

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


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

In the western city of Lviv, hundreds of miles from the front lines, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met Saturday with the head of the European Union parliament. Hours earlier, Zelensky held talks with U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland and European legal officials on how to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine.

In a joint news briefing with Zelensky, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said “all those responsible” for suspected 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 EU members to continue arming the country’s military as it strives to keep Russian forces at bay in the east and south.

“Ukraine’s future is as a member of the European Union. We will walk all the way with you,” Metsola tweeted late Friday.


The EU agreed in June to put Ukraine on a path toward membership, setting in motion a process that could last decades. However, Moscow’s invasion and Ukraine’s request for fast-track consideration have lent urgency to the negotiations.