- The mercenary commander claims Russia’s control of eastern Bakhmut
- Smoke is rising over the city and buildings are burning
- Ukrainian forces are committed to defending the city
- The situation in the city is “difficult”
KIEV (Reuters) – The commander of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group said on Wednesday that his forces had taken full control of the eastern part of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, scene of one of the bloodiest battles in the year-long war.
If the claim is true, it would mean Russian forces control nearly half of the city in their costly campaign to secure their first major victory in several months.
But the Ukrainian defenders remained united. Last week it seemed that they were preparing a tactical withdrawal from Bakhmut, but now military and political leaders are talking about holding positions and inflicting as many casualties as possible on the Russian offensive force.
Wagner’s chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said that his fighters, who had been leading the Russian campaign to capture Bakhmut, had now captured the east of the city.
“Everything east of the Pakhmutka River is completely under Wagner’s control,” Prigozhin said in a Telegram.
The river bisects the city of Bakhmut, which lies on the edge of the Donetsk region already largely under Russian occupation.
Prigozhin made premature success claims, and Reuters has not been able to verify the most recent ones.
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Ukrainian military statements said earlier that there could be “conditions” in Bakhmut for a Ukrainian attack.
“The main task of our forces in Bakhmut is to undermine the enemy’s combat capability and deplete their combat capabilities,” Serhiy Sherevaty, spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, told public television on Tuesday.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its report on Wednesday morning: “The enemy, despite heavy losses… continues to storm the town of Bakhmut.”
lands of the stricken cities
Russia, which claims to have annexed nearly 20% of Ukraine’s territory, has made progress in recent weeks around Bakhmut, but its winter offensive has not yielded significant gains in offensives to the north and south.
It says that capturing Bakhmut would be a step towards capturing the industrial Donbass region, made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Western analysts say the value of Bakhmut’s strategy is minimal.
But Kiev says Russia’s losses there may determine the future course of the war, with decisive battles expected later this year when the weather is better and Ukraine receives more military aid, including heavy battle tanks.
The most famous of the wars there were among the bloodiest and most destructive since the invasion of Russia in February last year, adding Bakhmut’s name to the list of devastated cities like Mariupol, Severodontsk, and Lysychansk.
A Ukrainian military drone showed the extent of the destruction in Bakhmut, as it photographed the fires in residential buildings and smoke rising from the residential areas.
Fewer than 4,000 civilians – including 38 children – out of some 70,000 pre-war residents remained in the city, which is now largely in ruins after months of bombing, said Irina Vereshuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister.
“The situation in the city is difficult. The enemy is actively storming our positions, but they did not achieve any success and suffered heavy losses,” said one of the Ukrainian border guards in a video broadcast by the State Border Service.
“Maybe out of spite, they tried to blow up two bridges. But we still received everything we need. The city stands, because Bakhmut was, is and will be Ukraine. We will keep in touch.”
The Ukrainian General Staff also said that Russian forces had carried out more than 30 failed attacks over the past day near Orekhovo-Vasilievka alone, 20 kilometers northwest of Bakhmut. It added that it bombed the areas surrounding ten settlements along the Bakhmut region of the front line.
In other developments, The New York Times reported that intelligence reviewed by US officials indicated that a pro-Ukrainian group was behind last year’s attacks on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines. She added that there was no evidence of the Kiev government’s involvement.
Undersea explosions occurred on pipelines between Russia and Germany in the exclusive economic zones of Sweden and Denmark in the Baltic Sea. Both countries concluded that the bombings were deliberate but did not say who might be responsible.
The New York Times report on Tuesday cited US officials as saying there was no evidence that President Volodymyr Zelensky or his top aides were involved, or that the perpetrators were acting at the behest of any Ukrainian government official.
The United States and NATO called the Sept. 26 attacks an “act of sabotage”, while Russia blamed the West and called for an independent investigation. No evidence was provided.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the reports of the attacks were an attempt to divert attention.
Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Angus McSwan, Editing by Nick McPhee
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