‘Soledar is gone’: Ukraine admits Russia controls Donetsk town

FIGHT TAKING A TOLL

He did not disclose when the pull back happened but said it had been carefully planned.

There was no “mass capture” or “encirclement” of Ukrainian forces, he added.

The commander of Igor’s unit, a senior sergeant with the call sign “Alkor” said there had been “a strong battle on the front line”, with Ukrainian troops raining shells down on Russian forces.

But, he said, Kyiv’s troops were outnumbered.

“We shoot and shoot and shoot, but after five minutes another wave of 20 enemies is coming at us … their numbers are huge. They use people as cannon fodder.”

The good news, he said, was, “The Russians prevail only in number.”

“Maybe in some places they have crossed the road” running south to the nearby town of Bakhmut, now the epicentre of the war and also its longest running battle.

“But our side is keeping most of the road. Ours stand. They aren’t leaving,” he added.

Despite the difficulty of the combat, Igor said the fighters kept up their morale.

“We understand that if we don’t do this job, no one will come and do it.”

Although some tasked with reclaiming the lost ground were confident Ukraine’s positions can be reclaimed, others were less sure.

“Soledar is gone,” said 144th territorial defence battalion deputy commander Volodymyr Leonov, 10 kilometres away, where servicemen recouped away from the front.

And the grinding fight to prevent Russian forces from making even further gains is taking a toll, Leonov added.

He told AFP 27 servicemen had signed a letter saying they will no longer go to combat positions.

This comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday signed legislation toughening punishments for disobedience or desertion from the armed forces.

Soldiers could face up to 12 years in prison for desertion and up to 10 years for refusing to fight.

But for certain people, prison is better than dying in the trenches in Donetsk. At least, “some think so,” Leonov said.