KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces attacked dozens of Ukrainian positions across the eastern front, the Ukrainian military said on Monday, as Moscow’s assaults widen and intensify ahead of what Kyiv has warned could be the Kremlin’s largest offensive since the first weeks of the war.
The Ukrainian General Staff, which is responsible for military strategy, said in its daily battlefield update that the Russians fired on some two dozen towns and villages around Bakhmut, the ruined city that has become the focal point of Moscow’s campaign to seize all of the eastern area known as Donbas.
But the general staff said that the chaotic nature of the Russian effort — including waves of inexperienced recruits and former convicts belonging to the Wagner paramilitary group — was limiting its effectiveness.
“There was a complete lack of coordination and interaction among the servicemen of Russian occupation troops and the so-called Wagner Group’s mercenaries,” it said.
Just as Russia used its overwhelming advantage in artillery early in the war to grind out gains in eastern Ukraine, it is now deploying hundreds of thousands of newly mobilized soldiers, in small groups, to probe for vulnerabilities in Ukrainian defensive lines. That has forced Ukraine to stretch its forces to meet the threat.
But while the fighting has been brutal — with hundreds of soldiers being killed or wounded daily on both sides, according to U.S. and European estimates — neither side has achieved any significant territorial gains in months. The eastern front has remained largely the same, running along a 140-mile stretch of territory that forms the shape of a jagged crescent moon.
It remains unclear where and when Moscow will mount a large-scale offensive, but Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said on Sunday that tens of thousands of newly mobilized soldiers have been dispatched to northeastern and southeastern part of occupied Ukraine. He said that Moscow is determined to break through Ukrainian defensive lines before the anniversary of its invasion, on Feb. 24.
At the northern edge of the crescent is the Russian-held city of Kreminna, where heavy battles are playing out in surrounding forests. Kreminna is where the Ukrainian counteroffensive in September stalled after driving the Russians from the northeastern Kharkiv region, and it is now one of the areas where Ukrainian officials have said Moscow is massing troops for a renewed assault.
At the center of the crescent is Bakhmut, the site of one of the war’s most prolonged and bloody battles, where Russia has made slow progress in its monthslong attempt to encircle the city. Lieutenant Roman Konon, who is fighting in the city with the “Freedom” battalion of the Ukrainian National Guard, said Russia continued to attack with “an unprecedented force.”
“First, the infantry units of the occupiers go on reconnaissance by combat, then a massive barrage of artillery begins and the infantry assault is repeated again,” he said in a video message played on Ukrainian national television.
Despite Russian forces’ “minor successes in advancing,” he said, Ukrainian forces still controlled a highway that allows supplies to get into the city.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine met with his military leadership on Monday to get updated on the current situation on the front lines. “Special attention was paid to the positions of the defense forces in the Bakhmut direction and their provision with necessary munitions,” his office said in a statement.
At the southern edge of the crescent, near the town of Vulhedar, Ukraine says Russian attacks have been repulsed. But Ukrainian officials warned that tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have been deployed to the region and could be gathering for a more coordinated assault.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday night that Russian forces were determined to avenge their setbacks in the first year of the war, and that the “fierce battles” raging on the front will likely grow in intensity.
“We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and win,” he said.