Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Russian army would have an “open road” into east-ern Ukraine if it captures the besieged city of Bakhmut, US media reported Tuesday.
“We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Sloviansk, it would be open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview due to broadcast in the United States on Wednesday.
The Russian army has vowed to capture Ukraine’s eastern town of Bakhmut, a symbolic prize in months of fierce combat, as a precursor for offensives deeper into Ukraine.
The battle for Bakhmut — a salt-mining town with a pre-war population of 80,000 — has been the longest and bloodiest in Russia’s more than year-long invasion that has devastated swathes of Ukraine and displaced millions.
Russia has appeared intent to capture the town at all costs. “Capturing (Bakhmut) will allow for further offensive operations deep into the defense lines of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told military officials during a televised meeting on Tuesday.
Zelenskyy told CNN that his armed forces were resolved to stay in Bakhmut.
“I had a meeting with the chief of staff yesterday and the chief military commanders online and offline … and they all talk that we have to stand strong in Bakhmut,” he said.
“Of course, we have to think about the lives of our military. But we have to do whatever we can whilst we’re getting weapons, supplies and our army is getting ready for the counter-offensive.”
But Zelensky dismissed those concerns, saying he has “never heard anything like that” from his com-manders.
“We have to think about our people first and no one should be surrounded, encircled – this is very important,” he said.
“I had a meeting with the chief of staff yesterday and the chief military commanders online and offline … and they all talk that we have to stand strong in Bakhmut,” he said. “Of course we have to think about the lives of our military. But we have to do whatever we can whilst we’re getting weapons, supplies and our army is getting ready for the counter-offensive.”
“The military sees for themselves that we have to stay strong there despite the fact that Russia ruined the whole city and everything there,” Zelensky added. “Troops were helping kids, civilians to leave the town – even up to today people were leaving Bakhmut. We were helping everyone.
Nearly 4,000 civilians – including 38 children – remain inside the battered city, the country’s Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said elsewhere on Tuesday. “We have special evacuation teams, who help, and armored vehicles.—AFP