Molchanova’s assistant is Viktor Nedobratenko, who looks well into his 70s but is only 45. He chops wood for the fire. The shelter is almost too warm, and jackets come off. But it isn’t smoky. They know how to work wood stoves here and that, like the fishing and chopping and countless skills learned from tough lives, has allowed them to hold out for this long.
But resilience has its limits — and Russian troops and mercenaries are advancing, holding land in the south and north of the city.
The bulldozer strategy Russia is using to capture and destroy Bakhmut appears to be working. The Kremlin is throwing thousands of fighters at the city, advancing slowly behind the crashing artillery. British intelligence estimates Russia is losing fighters at a higher rate now than at any point in the war — around 800 casualties per day. While neither side releases reliable death tolls, indications are that Ukraine has suffered heavy losses, too.
It’s unclear how much longer Ukrainians troops can hold the city they have been defending for six months under heavy fire. Military officials tell me Russia is willing to take heavier losses than Ukraine, especially since the Russian Wagner Group has been sending in human waves of conscripts. Speculation is rife the Ukrainian government may retreat from Bakhmut to save civilian lives and preserve troops for other battles.
After a year of battlefield trial and error, Russia seems to have landed on this bulldozer approach, and is testing it in Bakhmut.
Last February, President Vladimir Putin tried to conquer all of Ukraine with lightning strikes from land, sea and air. Fighter jets streaked across the country to attack Kyiv. Helicopter gunships dropped commandos near the capital. Columns of tanks rolled into Ukraine from the north, east and south.