Thousands of Ukrainians Endure Dire Conditions Around Bakhmut, Aid Groups Say
Thousands of civilians remaining in the region around the city of Bakhmut — the site of a long, grueling battle in eastern Ukraine — are living in abject conditions with scant access to basic necessities, according to international aid workers.
The fighting in and around Bakhmut has been the most violent of recent months and does not appear to be letting up, with Russian and Ukrainian officials expressing this week an unwillingness to yield.
Ukrainian officials have said that the civilians are choosing to stay despite their best efforts to evacuate them, with some even hiding from police officers or emergency workers. But many of those still in the region are older or disabled people with low mobility and the family members caring for them, Umar Khan, an official with the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a briefing Friday.
“All you see are people pushed to the very limit of their existence and survival,” said Mr. Khan, who traveled with a Red Cross convoy that delivered aid to towns around Bakhmut this week. “The sheer scale of destruction is shocking.”
The Red Cross said there are several thousand people living in Bakhmut and as many as 10,000 in nearby towns including Kostiantynivka and Chasiv Yar, where the group handed out basic goods this week including hygiene kits, solar lamps and emergency drinking water.
A Ukrainian official said this week that about 3,500 people, including 32 children, remained in the city of Bakhmut, in Donetsk Province. The prewar population was 70,000.
Last month, Ukraine barred aid groups from accessing the city, saying conditions had gotten too dangerous as Russian troops closed in, a step some saw as a prelude to a Ukrainian withdrawal. Yet the costly battle has ground on, with both sides sustaining heavy losses while imbuing the battle with symbolic importance.
The battle for Bakhmut, which began in the summer, has become one of Russia’s longest-running assaults in the war. The fighting has intensified in recent months, with Russian troops nearly encircling the city in February.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine visited Bakhmut this week for a second time to rally soldiers, appearing to signal that the country would not give in. Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private military group that has sent droves of enlisted convicts to the battle, said this week, “The Bakhmut meat grinder continues.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report this week that the already dire humanitarian situation in the region has “dramatically deteriorated” as the fighting has intensified. The remaining civilian population spends most of its time in basements, with 80 percent of homes destroyed or damaged and is dependent on aid, the report said.
Bakhmut has no centralized water, gas, heating or electricity, and only four medical workers are left in town, the report said, citing local officials. Efforts to provide humanitarian aid are increasingly perilous, the U.N. said. It noted that an airstrike in February struck a warehouse of a local nonprofit in Chasiv Yar that was used as a hub by groups including the U.N. to send relief supplies to nearby towns.