Wagner confirms the siege of Bakhmut after fierce fighting and calls on Zelensky to withdraw his forces
The Russian military Wagner Group announced on Friday that its elements are now practically besieging Bakhmut, where battles are currently concentrated in eastern Ukraine, calling on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to withdraw his forces from the town.
The battle in the strategically important industrial city of Bakhmut has been going on since the summer and has led to great destruction and heavy casualties on both sides.
The town has become a symbol of the conflict, with fighting centered there between Russians and Ukrainians for months.
In recent weeks, Russian forces have advanced north and south of Bakhmut, cutting off three of four Ukrainian supply routes and making the position of Ukrainian forces increasingly vulnerable.
The head of the Russian group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a video on Telegram that “Wagner units have practically surrounded Bakhmut, and there is only one way left to get out of the town.
Prigozhin spoke in military fatigues as a distant explosion rang out.
The Ukrainian president, who has vowed to defend Bakhmut as long as possible, called for Kiev’s forces to be allowed to withdraw from the town.
“Although we previously faced a professional Ukrainian army that was fighting us, today we see more and more old people and children… They’re fighting, but their life in Bakhmut is short, a day or two,” Prigozhin said.
“Give them the opportunity to leave the town, it’s practically surrounded,” he added.
In the video, three people, an elderly man and two young men, appear on camera asking Zelensky to let them leave.
The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited Bakhmut last December and presented the US Congress, during his visit to Washington shortly thereafter, with a Ukrainian flag that he had brought with him from the front.
For its part, the Ukrainian military leadership acknowledged on Tuesday that the situation was extremely tense in Bakhmut.
On that day, the Ukrainian president referred to an increase in the intensity of fighting around the town, which was inhabited by about 70,000 people before the war, and now, according to local authorities, 4,500 people remain, despite the dangers.
The Ukrainian General Staff didn’t mention any details about the situation in Bakhmut on Friday, and only indicated that the army repelled 85 Russian attacks on the entire front during the past twenty-four hours.
However, the spokesman for the Eastern Command of the Ukrainian army, Sergey Cherifati, denied in a statement to AFP on Wednesday that his forces had withdrawn from Bakhmut.
Ukrainian servicemen interviewed by AFP in the city recently tried to remain optimistic, while others reported shortages of men, ammunition and artillery.