The battle for Bakhmut is a critical test of Russia’s prospects in Ukraine.

Bakhmut, a town of 70,000 people that was once renowned for its fine wines, has been under siege by Russian soldiers and mercenaries from the Wagner group for almost six months.

There has been a daily Russian pounding of the once-elegant city center, turning it into a succession of obliterated facades, with debris scattered on the streets among freshly dug-out antitank trenches and barriers.

In early July, Russian troops reached the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut after successfully capturing Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. Since then, the tide of war has shifted in Kyiv’s favor in other areas of the country, where Ukrainian forces expelled Russian troops from Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Kherson.