There is now only one main road leading out of Ukrainian-controlled Bakhmut, with the mining center once home to around 80,000 reduced to artillery craters and muddy trenches.

But Ukrainian officials have doubled down on their strategy, insisting that holding the city was, in fact, critical to their future operations, even as losses mount on both sides.

Ukraine’s future depends on the outcome of the battles in Bakhmut and nearby areas, Zelenskyy said this week, stressing his commitment to hold out in the city.

“There was a clear position from the entire command: strengthen this sector and destroy the occupiers as much as possible,” he said in his late-night video speech on Tuesday.

Officials in Kiev have insisted that the battle constrains Russian advances by forcing Moscow to send troops and equipment to Bakhmut, while paving the way for further Ukrainian advances by allowing its own reserves more time to prepare.

His position received public support in Washington on Wednesday.

«Ukraine has fixed Russian forces in that city and they are demanding very high costs from the Wagner Group and the Russian regular army,» Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told a news conference.

NBC News has reached out to the Ukrainian government for further comment.

For its part, Moscow hopes that Bakhmut can open a path to capture the rest of the surrounding region. The city lies in the northeastern part of Donetsk province, the industrial Donbas half of Ukraine that has become a central target of the Kremlin offensive.

With that in mind, some analysts said Ukraine’s approach made sense.

«The Ukrainians’ idea is not just to kill as many Russians as possible, but to station their troops there so they can’t deploy them anywhere else,» said Rajan Menon, director of the Washington think tank Defense Priorities, adding that Ukraine he was well aware of his position in Bakhmut and was taking a calculated risk.

“The question is whether you can hold the line and deal damage at a cost that the commanders in the Ukraine find acceptable,” Menon said, “is that necessarily disastrous?”