Russia-Ukraine war: In a major development, the head of the Russian private army Wagner claimed that his forces have taken control of the city of Bakhmut– a claim Kyiv denied.
In a social media post, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. He spoke flanked by about half a dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance.
However, after the video appeared, Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said heavy fighting was continuing. “The situation is critical,” she said. “As of now, our defenders, control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in this area.”
Ukraine refutes Russia’s claim
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern command, told The Associated Press that Prigozhin’s claim “is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.” In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian General Staff said “Heavy battles for the city of Bakhmut do not stop.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said “This is not the first time Prigozhin has said ‘We seized everything and are dominating’.” He also suggested that the Wagner chief’s statement was aimed at drawing attention away from Zelenskyy’s recent highly visible trips overseas, including to the G7 Summit in Japan on Saturday.
Fighting has raged in and around Bakhmut for more than eight months.
If Russian forces have taken control of Bakhmut, they will still face the massive task of seizing the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas.
Still, reality is unknown
It is not clear which side has paid a higher price in the battle for Bakhmut. Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers.
Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut in an interview with The Associated Press in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally international support for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptable compromises.
Analysts have said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but wouldn’t prove decisive to the outcome of the war.
Russian forces still face the enormous task of seizing the rest of the Donetsk region under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas. The provinces of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland where a separatist uprising began in 2014 and which Moscow illegally annexed in September.
Bakhmut, located about 55 kilometres (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, had a prewar population of 80,000 and was an important industrial centre, surrounded by salt and gypsum mines.
(With inputs from AP)
Also Read: Russia bans 500 Americans including Barack Obama in retaliation over US sanctions on Moscow