Ukrainian police helped six-year-old escape as soldiers deny Russia’s claims it almost has the embattled city surrounded
A six-year-old child has been rescued from the embattled city of Bakhmut and reunited with her mother in a daring mission by Ukrainian police.
Russian sources claimed yesterday to have completed the encirclement of the city, the focus of a gruelling offensive for several weeks.
But Ukrainian soldiers told The Telegraph that the claims were premature and a vital lifeline into the city was still open.
The little girl, Alina, was reunited with her mother, Halyna Danylchenko, earlier this week after being driven out by two police officers who took her to the Ukrainian-held town of Sloviansk.
As mother and daughter hugged, the girl said: “A shell exploded in our yard.”
“That’s why I got so worried,” replied Ms Danylchenko (24), who is eight months pregnant.
About 200 children remain in the city, Ukrainian police said, despite the departure of almost all of the 70,000 original residents amid constant bombardment.
Fog hung heavy around the battle yesterday. At mid-morning, visibility on the T0504 highway connecting Bakhmut with the Ukrainian-held town of Kostiantinivka was down to 50 metres.
Humvees, lorries and cars in Ukrainian army service drove with their headlights on, but did not slow down.
“They’re shooting at this road all the time. You can still drive it if you go full speed. But you’re better off via the Chasiv Yar road,” said one soldier, who had just left the embattled town.
Yesterday afternoon, one Russian official prematurely claimed the siege had been closed.
“Bakhmut is now operationally surrounded, our forces are closing the ring around the city,” said Yan Gagin, an aide to Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed head of the Donetsk region.
“Fighting for control of the Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway is now under way.”
But a Ukrainian officer who drove into and out of Bakhmut via the Chasiv Yar road yesterday said he found the situation in the city “all right” and markedly improved compared with the previous day.
The officer said the Russians had been pushed back from some of the gains they made in a concerted assault on Tuesday and that shelling had dropped off.
The battle for Bakhmut is now the longest of the war and likely one of its bloodiest.
The soldier standing at the end of the road and his unit had left Bakhmut only recently after a two-month rotation, during which they lost “a lot of guys.”
He and his comrades said “loads” of civilians remain in the town.
“Where are they going to go?” he asked rhetorically.
Ukraine and its western allies have played down Russia’s advances around Bakhmut. British defence intelligence said Russia might continue to make “local gains” in the area, but it was unlikely to have “sufficient uncommitted troops in the area to achieve an operationally significant breakthrough”.
However, Ukrainian forces are also under significant pressure.
“The Russians just send these guys with rifles at you, loads of them. Without tanks, without armour support, without artillery, without anything,” said one soldier who fought in both Soledar and Bakhmut.
Most of those Russians get gunned down, he added.
He said the fighting here was more intense than in the battle for Kherson, but dismissed the Russian claim of an encirclement.
Telegraph Media Group Limited