Ukraine Hints at Pulling Troops From Bakhmut as Battle Grows Bloodier

Ukrainian troops have put up a tough fight in Bakhmut, but as the battle grows bloodier, one leader is hinting at pulling troops from the area.

The war's frontlines shifted to Bakhmut in July, and although Ukraine has held its position, fighting grows more brutal as Russians surround the area and issue attacks incessantly. However, the battles have grown so gruesome that Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is considering a retreat.

"Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options. So far, they've held the city, but if need be, they will strategically pull back," Rodnyansky told CNN. "We're not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing."

Russia and Ukraine have each taken strategic losses throughout the war, which reached its one-year mark on February 24. In the fall, Russia withdrew its forces from Kherson after a strong counteroffensive from Ukrainian troops, but the war has reached a stalemate in the winter months.

Ukrainian troops drive a tank in Bakhmut
Ukrainian military members drive an infantry fighting vehicle on a dirt road on February 26, 2023, in the Donetsk region. After the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Soledar, the main confrontation with the Russian army and its mercenaries took place in February on the outskirts of the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Now, Ukraine is considering withdrawing its troops from Bakhmut. Getty

Fighting remains vicious, with one American fighting for Ukraine describing Bakhmut as so violent that soldiers had a four-hour lifespan if they fought at the frontlines. The American soldier said Bakhmut was known as "the meat grinder" because of the brutality.

Each side is expected to launch a renewed offensive in the spring, with some strategists believing that Russia already launched its in Bakhmut about February 24.

Russian and Ukrainian troops have suffered substantial losses in Bakhmut. The Wagner Group, Russia's private military company known for its brutality, has played a key part in the battles at Bakhmut, with the Associated Press reporting that the group was attempting to encircle the city. In January, Ukrainian troops withdrew from Soledar, a town close to Bakhmut.

Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser Mark Cancian told Newsweek that the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Bakhmut has been expected for several weeks.

"The Russians have been attacking north and south of the city," Cancian said, adding that the Ukrainians were in a salient—or surrounded by Russians on multiple sides. "That's a very difficult position to be in."

Cancian said tactical withdrawal was the right thing to do, but that the decision might have psychological effects on Ukraine's resistance.

"Because there's been so much tension in Bakhmut, Russia will celebrate the capture of the city," Cancian told Newsweek.

Russia has yet to celebrate, though. Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, reported that Ukrainian troops haven't withdrawn from the city as of Wednesday. Instead, he reported that Ukraine was sending more troops to the area.

"The Ukrainian army is deploying additional troops and is doing what it can to retain control of the city," Prigozhin said in an Associated Press story. "Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are offering fierce resistance, and the fighting is getting increasingly bloody by day."

The possible capturing of the city comes at a very high cost, and Cancian said the Russians have paid a very high price for the territory by losing many of their own soldiers and equipment in the battles.

Newsweek reached out to the Kremlin and Ukrainian Ministry of Defense for comment.