The Battle for Bakhmut: Symbolic Stakes and Heavy Losses

The battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has been raging for weeks, and both Ukrainian and Russian forces have sustained heavy losses.[0] On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address that his forces have killed more than 1,100 Russian troops and wounded 1,500 in the past week in the embattled city.[1] Russian forces have also suffered significant losses, with the Russian defence ministry claiming to have killed “more than 220 Ukrainian servicemen” in the past 24 hours.[2]

Achieving success in Bakhmut would move Russia closer to dominating the entirety of Donetsk, one of the four zones situated in eastern and southern Ukraine that it seized in September. Ukrainian ground forces commander Col. Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi said assault units of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group were “advancing from several directions, trying to break through the defenses of our troops and advance to the central districts of the city.”[0]

Ukrainian President Zelensky has assigned great symbolic meaning to Bakhmut, making it a potential morale game changer for both camps.[3] Russian military commanders are reportedly using the battle for Bakhmut to “deliberately expend” Wagner forces in order to weaken Prigozhin, sabotaging his bid to boost his influence in the Kremlin.[2] The Ukrainian government fears that the capture of the city by Russian forces would open the road to larger cities such as Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. The battle for Bakhmut is a microcosm of a year-long war of attrition that has engulfed the region, and it is still unclear who will ultimately emerge victorious.

0. “Ukraine war: Heavy losses reported as battle for Bakhmut rages” BBC, 13 Mar. 2023,

1. “More than 1,100 enemy soldiers eliminated in Bakhmut sector since March 6” Ukrinform, 12 Mar. 2023,

2. “Zelensky claims 1,100 Russian soldiers killed in Bakhmut” UPI News, 13 Mar. 2023,

3. “Bakhmut claims more casualties as Kyiv, Moscow fight for symbolic town” The Christian Science Monitor, 10 Mar. 2023,