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.

“We’re so used to it by now, we no longer pay much attention,” Ms. Bondarenko, 76, said as she pointed to a nearby crater left by a Russian shell in the morning. “It’s been going on for months. When is it going to end?”

Bakhmut after Russian shelling
Bakhmut after Russian shelling (Source: State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Wikimedia)

As they sat outside their apartment block on a frigid day, chatting and enjoying some fresh air, Russian shells came closer and closer, devastating what remains of this eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian troops fortified the neighborhood by emplacing concrete slabs at an intersection nearby. Finally, three tanks arrived, their turrets bearing blue-and-yellow flags. Machine-gun fire, along with the thumps of artillery, could be heard in the distance.

“It’s probably never going to end,” replied Ms. Shilkova, 75.