Bakhmut: Once a ‘City of Wine and Roses,’ Transformed into ‘Hell on Earth’

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Once a thriving rail hub in a region renowned for salt mining, the industrial city of Bakhmut has tragically become the epicenter of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, leaving its once vibrant landscape reduced to ruins.

On Saturday, Russia asserted its capture of Bakhmut, raising questions and concerns about the situation in the city. (Photo: Reuters)

Amid conflicting claims, the city of Bakhmut finds itself at the center of attention. Russia asserted its capture on Saturday, a statement refuted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday. Once home to approximately 72,000 residents, Bakhmut is situated in the Donetsk region and is intersected by the Bakhmutka River.

Notably, this region is among the four Ukrainian regions that Russia purportedly annexed last year, although its complete control remains uncertain months into the invasion.

Situated at the bottom of a valley, the city faces significant challenges in terms of defense against attacks. Bakhmut, once a significant rail hub in a region renowned for salt mining, has become the focal point of the conflict in eastern Ukraine since the previous summer. The relentless fighting has resulted in widespread devastation, leaving much of the city in ruins.

The Ukrainian soldiers tasked with defending Bakhmut have grimly described the battle as “hell on Earth” and drawn comparisons to the infamous battle of Verdun, known as the longest and one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.

Tragically, it was in close proximity to Bakhmut that Arman Soldin, a video journalist for AFP, lost his life on May 9 due to rocket fire while reporting on the situation. As of March, local authorities estimated that only 3,000 civilians were still residing in the area. However, it is believed that at present, very few, if any, individuals remain in the city.


Formerly known as Artemovsk from 1924 to 2016, the city of Bakhmut holds a unique history. It was named after the Soviet revolutionary “Artem” as a tribute. In its prime, Bakhmut was celebrated as the “city of wine and roses,” and its renowned sparkling wine production has since relocated to the Odesa region.

One notable street in the city, affectionately called “Rose Alley,” achieved a Ukrainian record with an impressive display of 5,000 roses adorning its path.

Residents make their way along the street, navigating through the challenges of the war-torn city. (Photo: AFP)

However, the city’s current state tells a different tale. Severely affected by the conflict, the western part of Bakhmut is now only connected to the rest of the Ukrainian forces through a solitary road.

This road, marred by the presence of burned-out vehicles, has earned the poignant nickname from soldiers as the “Road of Life.” It serves as a vital lifeline for the besieged Ukrainian units, reflecting the immense challenges they face in maintaining their resilience amidst the ongoing turmoil.

In 2014, as the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow-backed separatists erupted, pro-Russian fighters made an initial attempt to seize control of Bakhmut. However, Ukraine’s military successfully repelled the assault in July of that year.

Although some experts have questioned the strategic significance of Bakhmut, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy emphasized in March that the capture of the city could create an “open road” for Russian forces to target the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

When AFP journalists recently visited Bakhmut, they witnessed the aftermath of intense shelling. Buildings displayed scars from artillery fire, while twisted metal from destroyed playgrounds, shards of glass, and makeshift crosses over hastily buried civilian graves cluttered the courtyards.

Despite the dire conditions, certain civilians, often elderly individuals, have chosen to remain in the city, enduring life in basements without basic amenities like water and electricity.

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Toshika Chauhan

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