Ukraine will not give up on embattled Bakhmut in the country’s east, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as Moscow’s forces continue their onslaught on a town described as a “fortress” by the Ukrainian leader.
The hotly contested town in the Donetsk region has been at the center of fighting for months, and Zelenskyy said on Friday, during a summit with EU leaders in Kyiv, that Ukrainian forces would hold it for as long as possible.
No one will relinquish Bakhmut. Zelenskyy said, “We’ll fight till we can,” standing next to European Council President Charles Michel on his second visit to Kyiv. jointly with Ursula von der Leyen, who is the President of the European Commission.
“If weapon (delivery) rates increase, particularly for long-range weapons, we will not only not withdraw from Bakhmut, but we will also begin to de-occupy Donbas,” Zelenskyy added, referring to the Donetsk and Luhansk are two of the regions that make up Ukraine’s eastern region.
According to Moscow, Russian forces are encircling Bakhmut from all sides and battling for control of a road that is also an important supply route for Ukrainian forces.
Zelenskyy’s defiant remarks about the battle for Bakhmut came at the end of a two-day visit to Kyiv by several senior European Union officials, during which the Ukrainian leader called for his country’s quick accession to the regional bloc.
Zelenskyy has stated that he wants Ukraine to join the EU as soon as possible and that talks should begin this year.
On Friday, he stated that the organization’s objective was plain clear: to launch membership negotiations with Ukraine. We are committed to continuing our efforts to improve relations between the EU and Ukraine.
The EU granted Kyiv candidate status in June last year, just months after the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine, but the path to full membership is likely to be difficult and could take years.
During the Kyiv meeting, Von der Leyen and Michel reaffirmed the EU’s unwavering support for Ukraine.
Michel reiterated his support for Kyiv’s integration with the EU, saying, “Ukraine is the EU, the EU is Ukraine.”
The EU stated on Friday acknowledging Ukraine’s “considerable efforts” toward membership but urging Kyiv to implement additional reforms.
Corruption is a major concern for the EU, and Ukraine has increased its efforts to combat it with high-profile raids this week on an oligarch with political ties and a former interior minister.
“You’re at war,” von der Leyen said.
However, she cautioned that the accession process was merit-based and that “no rigid timelines” for Ukrainian membership or talks could be imposed.
Fighting in Bakhmut continued throughout the morning on Friday.
According to Agence-France Presse, smoke could be seen rising from the city center, behind the golden-domed All Saints Church, and Ukrainian helicopters flew low over the frozen countryside to the northwest towards Bakhmut.
According to a Belarusian volunteer fighting for Ukraine inside the city, there is no indication that Ukrainian forces are planning to withdraw.
“For the time being, the positions are being reinforced where the Russians are attempting to cut us off… “We’re holding for the time being,” he told Reuters.
According to a charity that assists residents in the war-torn town, an attack on a car carrying volunteer paramedics the day before killed one and injured several others.
An investigation was underway, but it could take several days to determine the identity of the victim following reports that foreign nationals were involved, according to a police official.
When the car was hit, Oleksandr Tkachenko, 65, and three other locals rushed to help, pulling an injured woman free from the vehicle.
He stated that it was “clear” that the car destroyed in the attack was not a military target.
Locals involved in the rescue were not soldiers, he added, but they were also attacked and injured in a second attack while attempting to help.
I don’t know how we avoided being torn apart. “I got shrapnel in my leg,” Tkachenko explained, limping towards a community center with the assistance of a walking stick.