“Bakhmut” is the New Russian Word for “Pyrrhic Victory”

Wes O'Donnell
5 min readMay 22
Portrait of Pyrrhus of Epirus. From the rectangular peristyle of the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum. Public domain

A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat.

Such a victory negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress.

The phrase originates from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BCE destroyed much of his army, forcing the end of his campaign.

The nine-month battle for Bakhmut has completely obliterated the 400-year-old city in eastern Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy has likened the devastation to images of Hiroshima after the atomic blast.

Effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. View from the top of the Red Cross Hospital looking northwest. Frame buildings recently erected. 1945. Public domain

For some inexplicable reason, Putin has concentrated a large percentage of his combat capability on the goal of Bakhmut’s capture.

It’s inexplicable because Bakhmut holds no more strategic value for Russia than any other frontline city in the east.

And yet, Ukraine has been more than happy to follow the old proverb that says, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

Ukraine’s defiant resistance in Bakhmut was carefully coordinated to exhaust Russia as much as possible. After all, if Putin was going to throw young Russian men into a meat grinder that held questionable symbolic importance, then Ukraine was obliged to make Russia pay for their miscalculation.

On May 1, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that the Russians had suffered 100,000 casualties, including over 20,000 dead, fighting for Bakhmut in just the previous five months alone.

He also said that half of these losses were from the Wagner Group. “It’s really stunning, these numbers,” Kirby added, saying the total is three times the number of American casualties in the Guadalcanal campaign in World War Two.

Ukraine claims the ratio is 7 to 1 killed in favor of Ukrainian soldiers around Bakhmut. On May 21, President Joe Biden also said that “Russians have suffered over 100,000 casualties in Bakhmut.”

Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security Wonk for War is Boring, GEN, OneZero, Soldier of Fortune | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Founder of Warrior Lodge