Russia could be close to capturing a Ukrainian city for the first time in eight months.

Russian troops and the Wagner private military company are closing in on the eastern city of Bakhmut. Russia is employing heavy artillery, mortar fire, airstrikes and substantial ground forces, CNN reported.

“The Ukrainian Armed Forces might decide that they have achieved all they can by remaining in their defensive locations around Bakhmut, and that force preservation for the battles that follow is more important,” Mick Ryan, a former Australian general, told CNN.

But Ukrainians aren’t waving the white flag just yet. According to The New York Times, “hundreds of troops joined the counteroffensive, mounting assaults from the ground and pounding Russian positions with artillery from the surrounding hills.”

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About the Ukraine city of Bakhmut

Before the war, the city had a population of 70,000, but many have fled during the year-long war. The Times writes that the fight for Bakhmut is not just about the city — “it is a marathon contest to see which army can break the other.”

How is the Wagner Group fighting for Russia?

The Wagner Group has dedicated “its most advanced and prepared elements to assault operations in the area,” and Ukrainian authorities are weighing whether dedicating weapons and soldiers to staving them off is worth losing those resources and those fighters, USA Today reported.

The private military group has done a lot of recruiting within Russia, even recruiting some from Russian prisons. The head of the Wagner Group expressed concerns of being blamed for possible Russian losses.

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“If we step back, we will go down in history as the people who took the main step to lose the war,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said, per BBC. “... If Wagner PMC (private military company) were to now retreat from Bakhmut, then the entire front — which PMC Wagner today is cementing — would crumble.”

What will Ukraine do with Bakhmut?

An assessment by think tank Institute for the Study of War predicted that “Ukrainian forces are far more likely to withdraw than to become encircled. Ukrainians might still be able to hold their positions in Bakhmut if they choose to try,” per USA Today.

The Bakhmut mayor said Russian troops have yet to gain control of the city after infighting within the city.

“They have no goal to save the city ... their only goal is killing people and the genocide of the Ukrainian people,” Mayor Oleksandr Marchenko said on the “Today” program, per BBC.

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