“Life in Bakhmut is a tragedy. Explosions can be heard all the time, but people got used to it. They are depressed, they look like ghosts,” said Polish MP Hanna Gill-Piątek in an interview with Interia. Together with opposition MPs, she went to the city, which is directly on the front line. The politicians brought help to those in need and talked to civilians, officials and the military. We contacted them to find out what life in the city looks like under constant Russian fire and what Ukrainian soldiers need to stop the Russians and liberate the conquered areas.
The clashes in Bakhmut continue, and the city remains the point where the heaviest battles of the entire front line – nearly a thousand kilometres long – have been going on for many weeks. The area is constantly shelled by Russian artillery, but Ukrainian soldiers are heavily entrenched in the area and do not give in to Russian forces, which consist mainly of members of the Wagner Group.
The daily intelligence update of the British Ministry of Defence reported that the Ukrainians most likely withdrew from the nearby town of Soledar to strengthen the defensive lines near Bakhmut, where a group of opposition MPs accompanied by the Open Dialogue Foundation visited.
War in Ukraine. MPs on a visit to Bakhmut
“First, we drove straight from the border to Kharkiv, then we went to Konstantynivka and Bakhmut,” said Adam Szłapka, chairman of the Modern party, in an interview with Interia. He added that this city needs help the most, but not much of it is getting there. “We had the opportunity to talk to civilians and military commanders who stressed that they are in constant need of Western aid – both military and humanitarian,” he said.
The mayor of Bakhmut told MPs that despite the constant shelling from Russian artillery, nearly 10 percent of the population who lived here before the war still remains in the city – that’s about seven thousand people. “Life in Bakhmut is a completely different world. It means a constant noise of artillery shots, completely destroyed buildings and deserted streets,” says Adam Szłapka.
“The people in Bakhmut look like ghosts”
“Life in the city is a tragedy,” said Polish MP Hanna Gill-Piątek. “One of the residents approached me and asked if I had candles. “I gave him everything I had,” she added. People in the city have been deprived of access to electricity, gas and water for months. “They’re used to it, they look like ghosts. They are depressed and no longer even pay attention to the constant explosions. It is frightening,” she stressed.
To keep warm and try to live as normal as possible, citizens come to the local common room where they can have a cup of warm tea. “When we entered the building, people immediately formed a queue and gave each other the gifts. They are organized, even though these are mostly older people and children, because all men in their prime are at the front,” she added.
When asked why several thousand people still had not left Bakhmut, the MP replied that “evacuation requires some resources.” “These were the poorest people who stayed there for health, family and personal reasons,” she stressed.
The line of clashes is not in the city itself, but on its outskirts. The MPs have experienced it directly. “We saw the exchange of fire with our own eyes. A missile fell about 100 metres away from our convoy,” said the MP.
“Ukrainians don’t need more people, they need weapons”
The politicians also talked with the military about the necessary military assistance. “The most important thing for Ukrainian soldiers right are is artillery weapons and missiles, as well as tanks and drones. We transported the drones ourselves, so they can do reconnaissance in the air and attack the Russians effectively,” said MP Paweł Kurtul, vice-chairman of the National Defence Committee of the Parliament, in an interview with Interia.
Ukrainians fear that if the ground freezes, a large-scale Russian counterattack could take place. If Ukraine does not receive the weapons it is asking for, it may lose some of the positions gained in the counter-offensive.
In the opinion of all the parliamentarians we spoke to, Ukraine is dependant on supplies from the West. “Poland has to lobby to get more of this help. Ukrainians are very grateful to us for this, they thank us at every turn, which is why we cannot stop. They are shedding blood not only for their country, but also for us,” said Paweł Krutul.
“If the Ukrainians receive Western weapons that can be fired at a distance, the Russians will be stopped. “They have a tremendous desire to fight and they don’t need more people, they need weapons,” he stressed.
The Open Dialogue Foundation’s Marcin Mycielski told Interia what was included in the aid package that they brought to Bakhmut. “13 reconnaissance drones, 47 bulletproof vests, 200 kg of trench candles, 200 kg of disinfecting gels, also used as heating fuel, power generators from the EO Poland Fund and the Civic Coalition parliamentary club, a thermal vision device, five tons of food packages, 500 kg of animal feed and reflective vests prepared by students from ‘Bednarska’ Schools, hundreds of head torches and 50 kg of hygiene articles for women from the Kulczyk Foundation, 50 kg of medicines and medical articles from the MP Magdalena Sroka from the Agreement political party, a box of hemostatic dressings from the Belgian Aid Staff and a dozen or so bags of winter clothes from Dometic employees”, he listed and encouraged further support for the collections organised by the group.
The package also includes gifts from MPs participating in the mission, from the Polish Army, as well as bags and boxes with clothing, shoes, toys or items necessary for oncology doctors and patients.
“The future of Ukraine and Europe will be decided in Bakhmut”
The politicians were in Bakhmut on Tuesday, but for security reasons, they did not post any materials on the visit in social media until Thursday morning. As they emphasised, they maintained the highest security measures and did only what the army and services allowed them to do. “No one was taking any risks. We were aware of the gravity of consequences,” added Hanna Gill-Piątek.
The group also included members of the Civic Coalition parliamentary club – Witold Zembaczyński from the Modern party and Piotr Borys from the Civic Platform. In the recording posted in social media, they emphasised that living in Bakhmut is “hell”.
“It will take fire and artillery to freeze Putin’s hell in Bakhmut, and it takes humanitarian aid to survive the ‘Russian peace’,” the deputy said. “Not only the future of this city, but also the future of Ukraine and Europe will be decided in Bakhmut,” stressed Piotr Borys.