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Russian forces are advancing on Bakhmut, threatening to take some of the shine off weeks of Ukrainian victories, as life becomes more desperate for the eastern town's hard-pressed residents.
On Friday, Rimma Tsykalenko was determined to cross over to the west bank of the Bakhmutka river to collect her monthly pension, even though she uses a wheelchair and the bridge has been blown up to slow the Russian offensive.
"She won't make it!" called out Oleksandr Valiy, a 67-year-old retired factory worker who stopped his bike to watch the disabled 65-year-old's neighbours manhandling her on foot down a steep bank to the riverside.
"We did it before!" one of the party snapped back as they led her painfully homewards back across the makeshift wooden gangplank that has replaced the Donetsk region town's mangled concrete road bridge.
The pensioner survived the walk and her wheelchair was carried after her, but she was not out of danger. Smoke rose in columns from shell strikes south of the town and machinegun fire could be heard on the east bank.
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Even on the relatively safer west side, several apartment blocks have been blown apart, rubble and broken glass line the streets and incoming shells whistle eerily overhead, sending passers-by ducking for cover.
As the civilians struggled to carry water and basic food supplies across the ruined bridge, the Donetsk region's Russian-led proxy force claimed to have captured four villages south of the town.
Intense shelling was audible from the direction of Otradovka, Veselaya Dolina and Zaitsevo, which are now apparently in the hands of forces loyal to the separatist Donetsk republic now annexed by Russia.
Bakhmut -- a wine-producing and salt-mining town on the main road from Donetsk to Kyiv that was once home to 70,000 people -- would be a big prize if Moscow has any hope of securing the region.
Moscow's forces launched a push towards Bakhmut in August, and two weeks later the Ukrainian general staff admitted the invading force had had "some success", but still without taking the town.
Since then, the narrative of the war in the east has changed, with headlines dominated by successful Ukrainian counteroffensives to the north, in Kharkiv region, and to the south on the approaches to Kherson.
But not in Bakhmut, where Russia seems to have the momentum.
In the town, Ukrainian forces are still in charge and standing their ground, but there are persistent reports that Russian troops, including mercenaries from the Wagner company, have infiltrated the east bank.
"My home district of Zabakhmutka is over there and I haven't been able to reach my house for about two months," said 29-year-old humanitarian volunteer Edvard Skoryk, gesturing across the river.
"That part of town has been hit severely, the eastern part. There are street battles every night, one hundred percent, that's what I know," he told AFP.
At the bridge, Skoryk handed out a few loaves of bread to civilians heading across the river, some of them pushing bicycles or heaving 20-litre (five-gallon) water cooler refills on flimsy trolleys.
But he had another mission, working for the Ukrainian humanitarian group Vostok SOS and evacuating vulnerable residents from shell-damaged flats to get them out of Bakhmut before the battle gets even more intense.
He jumped in a white van and set off. Many of Bakhmut's main streets are blocked with steel tank traps and slabs of concrete, reinforced by heaps of brick rubble, forcing him to weave the van at speed through yards and back lanes.
"Genya, I'm already in Bakhmut," he shouted into his phone. "If they're okay to go now, I can pick them up."
In a nine-storey concrete housing block, part of a residential district near the town centre, he climbed the stairs to an upper-storey flat to find an old man and his dog who needed to be evacuated from the city.
Ivan Solovyankov is 90 and has been unable to leave Bakhmut because of the bombardment. Skoryk drove him out of the town towards the city of Dnipro, from where he can get a train to the relative safety of Kharkiv.
The Bakhmut residents who remain behind are attempting to stockpile meagre supplies of food and water before the battle ahead.
Igor Maksymenko's water barrel springs a leak as it tumbles from his wire trolley on the descent to the rickety bridge, but he manages to right it, determined to bring it to the east bank for an apartment block still housing 25 people.
"Sometimes, they fire really close, next to that store, just above our heads, and shrapnel mixed with dirt sprays everywhere," he said. "But still we keep on lugging it. How can we leave? To where? To stay with who?"
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