Key developments on Feb. 1:
- Ukraine, Russia issue conflicting claims over Russian gains near Bakhmut
- Police: About 200 children left in Bakhmut
- Ukraine's General Staff: Russia prepares offensives in several areas
Russian-controlled proxies in Donetsk Oblast claimed on Feb. 1 that Russian forces were closing in on Bakhmut, a city Moscow has been trying to occupy over the past six months.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry dismissed Russia's claimed advance in the northern part of Donetsk Oblast.
"Attempts to break Ukraine's defenses near Bakhmut are regular," the Defense Ministry said in a statement. "This attempt was a failure."
The conflicting reports from Ukraine and Russia regarding the front-line situation in Donetsk Oblast come a day after the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to occupy Blahodatne, north of Bakhmut.
Kyiv has not confirmed the loss of Blahodatne, and Ukraine's General Staff did not mention the village in the Feb. 1 briefing.
Meanwhile, the Russian army appears to be "actively" surveying the battlefield to prepare for a fresh offensive in several areas, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in its evening briefing.
According to the report, in Donetsk Oblast, Russia is currently waging offensive operations toward Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Lyman, and Novopavlivka.
Russian forces have been conducting an offensive in Vuhledar, 150 kilometers southwest of Bakhmut.
"We are on the verge of a very active phase. February and March will be very active," said Andriy Yusov, Defense Ministry's Intelligence Directorate spokesman, adding that Ukraine is preparing for a renewed Russian offensive.
Worsening situation in Bakhmut
Russian forces shelled the center of Bakhmut on Feb. 1, damaging scores of residential buildings, local authorities said.
About 60-65% of Bakhmut is damaged, and there are 5,990 people left in the city, according to the National Police. Among them are some 200 children, according to the spokesman of the Bakhmut District Police Department, Pavlo Dyachenko. More than 70,000 people lived in the city before the 2022 invasion.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a D.C.-based think-tank analyzing the war in Ukraine, said on Jan. 31 that the conventional Russian forces were able to prevent the culmination of their offensive in the Bakhmut sector even after the Kremlin-controlled Wagner mercenary group in the area began to get exhausted.
“Russian forces are continuing to conduct offensive operations northeast and southwest of Bakhmut and have secured limited territorial gains since capturing Soledar on Jan. 12,” according to the ISW.
“It is extraordinarily unlikely that Russian forces will be able to conduct a surprise encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut,” the ISW said, adding that there was still a possibility that “the Ukrainian command may choose to withdraw rather than risk unacceptable (human) losses.”
Eastern Operational Command spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty said on Jan. 31 that there were still logistic routes supporting the Ukrainian forces in the city and that the city was not encircled.
Russia moves to defend border regions
Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting on the “restoration of damaged civilian infrastructure” near the border with Ukraine that his country should focus on preventing the shelling in the area, the Kremlin-run TASS news agency reported on Feb. 1.
Putin claimed that the priority of Russian authorities should be “eliminating the possibility” of Ukrainian forces shelling the border regions, such as Belgorod Oblast.
Explosions are regularly reported in Russia's Belgorod Oblast, with regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov claiming that Ukrainian forces had shelled the region late on Jan. 31 as well, and its air defense was working throughout the night.
The Kremlin and regional officials have accused Ukraine of launching attacks on the border regions.
Ukrainian officials have denied their country’s military launching such attacks on bordering Russian regions.
In early December, Gladkov announced the formation of local Territorial Defense units in Belgorod Oblast, calling upon residents to begin military training.
The ISW said in its Dec. 6 report that using the “absurd premise of the threat of a Ukrainian ground assault on Russia’s border regions” to expose the ordinary Russian people to the war is a phenomenon spreading in the country.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said on Dec. 7 that Russia had begun extending defense positions along the border with Ukraine, and “deep inside its Belgorod” Oblast.
Recently, the governor of Russia’s Kursk Oblast, which also borders Ukraine, said on Jan. 30 that additional Russian troops and military equipment would arrive in the region “in the next few days.”
Kursk Oblast Governor Roman Starovoit claimed it was “to protect the state border and ensure security” in his region.