In Bakhmut, medics’ vehicles wait hidden under thick layers of earth and concrete. Artillery fire almost never ceases and every bit of the city is within its reach.
They come by minibus. A piece of paper with the number “300” stuck to the window means that they are transporting the wounded. They stop. The two medics do not get out. Fear and confusion are painted on their sweat-soaked faces, emptiness is visible in their eyes. After a while, when they catch their breath, they come out.
“We barely made it,” says Artur, one of the medics. He is about 30 years old, comes from the Kharkiv region. A year ago he was working in construction.
They were entering Bakhmut. This is a city in the Donetsk region, where 80,000 people lived until February 24 of last year. Due to heavy fighting, there are now about 6,000 left. Two routes leading to the city are impassable, because the Russian army is either within range of a rifle shot from them, or—in some sections—has already taken them. Only a so-called road of life leads to Bakhmut. It runs through many towns, and before the city itself it goes down a hill. Here, the vehicles moving along it are clearly visible to the Russians. This route has not been safe for some time.
It was not far from Bakhmut that shells exploded next to the medics’ vehicle. They demolished a small house from which things fell into the street, the shrapnel cut down a tree and the grass around it caught fire. Surprisingly, the minibus was not even glanced by the shrapnel.
In Bakhmut, medics’ vehicles wait hidden under thick layers of earth and concrete. Artillery fire almost never ceases and every bit of the city is within its reach. Medics have to wait in a place that is safe and out of sight to make it in one piece until the wounded are brought from the front, so that the medics can take them to a field hospital outside the city.
The front is getting closer to their staging area. The Russians are pushing from the north, east and south. They occupy the towns around Bakhmut and try to encircle him. Although fighting for the city has been going on since the summer, it has entered a critical phase in recent weeks. The Ukrainian military is trying to hold Bakhmut at all costs in order to stop the offensive from moving further into Donbas and capturing the key cities under Ukrainian control: Kostiantynivka, Druzhkivka, then Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
Will they successfully defend the city? It depends on who bleeds out first. It is not known whether the long-announced Russian offensive will gain enough momentum to break through Ukrainian positions. For now, fierce battles are taking place for every meter and both sides are suffering heavy losses.
When the medics once again leave Bakhmut, they drive as fast as possible between the fields under fire. Suddenly there is a terrible bang and soldiers walking along the roadside fall to the ground. Something hits the body of the minibus, probably pieces of earth scattered by the explosion. They manage to get out again.
Correspondence from Ukraine: The last road to town