By Joseph Campbell
BAKHMUT, Ukraine (Reuters) – Residents of the besieged town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine live in deplorable conditions, with civilians killed and injured every day, the deputy mayor said on Saturday, as as fighting between Russian troops and Ukrainian forces rages around the city.
Bakhmut has been a major target for the Russian military as it slowly advances into the Donetsk region, one of the territories the Kremlin claims it annexed after what Kyiv and the West called sham referendums in September.
Kyiv’s military says the area is the scene of some of the heaviest fighting with Russian forces, and deputy mayor Oleksandr Marchenko told Reuters that Russian troops “have been trying to storm the city since several directions”.
Reuters could not independently confirm his account of the situation on the battlefield.
“Every day it becomes more and more difficult to survive in this city,” Marchenko said from inside an empty government building as mortar rounds exploded nearby.
He said more than 120 civilians had been killed in Bakhmut since the February 24 Russian invasion.
“There are districts where we don’t know the exact number of people killed because active fighting is taking place there or the settlements are temporarily occupied (by Russian forces),” he added.
Ukrainian troops are “firmly holding the front line”, Marchenko said, while describing the deteriorating humanitarian situation facing the city, where the population has fallen from its pre-war level of around 80,000. at 12,000 today.
It has already been deprived of electricity, gas and running water for nearly two months.
Marchenko said local citizens were still venturing out to shop, collect humanitarian aid or fetch water despite being told to evacuate. He added that winter would be the hardest for the elderly and infirm.
“We are holding on and hope that the Ukrainian armed forces can push the enemy further from the city,” he said.
(Reporting by Joseph Campbell in Bakhmut; Writing by Dan Peleschuk in Kyiv; Editing by Helen Popper)