The fate of Bakhmut is still uncertain as Russian offensive continues on several fronts in Donbas
The head of Russian Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Saturday that his fighters had taken control of the village of Yahidny, just north of Pakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
But a Ukrainian military report, which came a day after the first anniversary of the start of the Russian invasion, indicated that villages near that main city were still under Kiev’s control.
“At 19:00 on February 25, the storm units of the Wagner PMC achieved full control of the Yagodnoye (Yahidny) district, north of Bakhmut,” Prigozhin said.
He had said that Wagner fighters had taken control of Berkhivka, a nearby village on the outskirts of Bakhmut.
The months-long struggle for control of Bakhmut, which has only about 5,000 of its 70,000 residents left, has seen some of the bloodiest battles of attrition during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Wagner’s units suffered heavy losses, prompting Prigozhin to complain that the Russian defense establishment didn’t properly acknowledge the group’s contributions.
Last week he even accused senior army officers of treason for not providing his men with enough ammunition, but later said the situation had been resolved.
According to the latest report of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army, Russian forces made unsuccessful advances in villages around Bakhmut, including Berkhivka.
The village of Yahidni wasn’t mentioned in the report, but it said that 18 residential communities in the area were bombed by Russian forces, including villages at the southern and western entrances to Bakhmut.
In addition, Russia said, on Saturday, that Switzerland had lost its neutral status and couldn’t be a mediator to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, in the wake of Bern’s offer of mediation.
Commenting on Berne’s offer of mediation, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “Switzerland has lost its neutral status and cannot be a mediator”.
Zakharova added, “For our part, we note that Switzerland, which joined the illegal Western sanctions unilaterally against Russia, is no longer a neutral country and cannot claim any mediating role in the context of resolving the Ukrainian crisis”.
Recently, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignacio Cassis expressed his country’s readiness at any time to bring the parties to the negotiating table, solve the Ukrainian crisis and contribute to the settlement.