Mortars, artillery and small arms fire as the battle for Bakhmut rages

By Mike Collett-White

NEAR BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) – From a mortar position behind a ridge behind which front-line Ukrainian and Russian troops face each other outside the hotly contested city of Bakhmut, a crew aimed its weapons before firing seven rounds.

The impact of each was heard seconds later in the distance, as the constant boom of outgoing and incoming artillery fire filled the air on Thursday in exhausting warfare that has marked the area in recent months.

The crackle of small arms fire was also clearly audible some 1.5-2.0 km from the front lines, not far from a road leading west from Bakhmut to the next town of Chasiv Yar – a vital escape route for Ukrainian troops encircled. threaten to become.

“The situation (at the front) is quite difficult, but stable,” said Myron, an 80th Air Assault Brigade soldier who declined to give his full name.

“The enemy is constantly trying to attack us and we are defending our positions quite effectively,” the 37-year-old told Reuters in an underground bunker at the end of a zigzagging trench where the mortar unit sleeps, eats and stays warm.

“We’ve been standing here for a long time and our brigade hasn’t given up any positions yet.”

Since a major Ukrainian counter-offensive last year, the war has evolved into a protracted conflict of incremental gains along a frontline stretching from the Russian border in the north to the annexed Crimean peninsula in the south.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and wounded on both sides, and while Russia appears to have the upper hand in key areas, including Bakhmut, progress is slow and costly and Kiev says it is determined to hold out.

Ukraine is urging its allies in the West to provide more modern military equipment and ammunition – a vital ingredient in what has become a fierce artillery duel.

Reuters reporters heard dozens of shells being fired from Ukrainian positions near Chasiv Yar and Bakhmut on Thursday alone.

Ihor, a 36-year-old soldier at the mortar position, said they were targets of airstrikes, mortar fire and tank fire.

“You don’t always look at what’s flying overhead,” he added, crouching in a deep ditch.

In the neighboring town of Chasiv Yar, a volunteer evacuation team drove a minibus through potholes between small houses, many of which lay in ruins as artillery shelling shook the ground.

Dozens of mostly elderly residents still live there, and about 20 gathered at a water tanker to fill up containers to take home.

A woman who had agreed to be taken from the increasingly dangerous city refused to leave when volunteers came to collect her, saying she was not ready. On the side of the next street, a man built a fire to make shashlik while a woman chatted nearby.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; editing by Andrew Heavens)

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