Wagner group confirms seizing 80% of Bakhmut and Kiev says that its forces are still steadfast


The head of Russia’s private military group Wagner said on Tuesday that his forces control more than 80% of the ruined city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, following some of the most intense and bloody fighting of the war.

Senior Ukrainian officials didn’t respond directly to the allegation, but said that their forces were still steadfast in the face of violent attacks and were preventing Russian forces from advancing in Bakhmut, which had a population of 70,000 before the war.

Wagner fighters are leading Russia’s months-long efforts to control Bakhmut.

The grinding trench warfare and constant artillery bombardment have drawn comparisons to World War I because of the high number of dead and wounded on both sides.

Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, stated that his forces, which had played a major role in the advance of Russian forces in the east, were proceeding to encircle Bakhmut.

“The bulk of Bakhmut, more than 80% of it is now under our control, including the entire administrative center, factories, warehouses and city administration,” Prigozhin said in a video posted by a Russian military blogger.

Denis Pushilin, head of the Russian-controlled part of the Donetsk region, said Russian forces had surrounded the Ukrainian defense forces in a corner.

Donetsk is one of four regions Moscow announced its annexation last September.

Russian news agencies quoted Pushilin as telling Russian state television, “They’ve no choice but to advance and surrender in the western regions, where their forces are stationed”.

“The situation in Bakhmut is under control,” said Serhiy Chervaty, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, adding that Kiev would not allow its forces to be surrounded.

Hana Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, acknowledged that Bakhmut took the main blow in the fighting, but added that Russian forces generally lose to us in street battles, so they destroy all buildings and structures.

Kiev says it needs more, more efficient Western weapons to defeat Russia, and senior Ukrainian officials have pushed ahead with efforts to persuade allies to open up their stockpiles.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter on Tuesday saying he had received assurances from his US counterpart Antony Blinken of steadfast US support.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, hosting his Ukrainian counterpart on Tuesday, also pledged new supplies of assault rifles, automatic weapons and ammunition.

Prigozhin had previously claimed that Russia had taken control of the mining town in a statement that turned out to be premature, but Ukraine acknowledges that the situation at what it calls Fortress Bakhmut is now very difficult.

Russia says the capture of Bakhmut would open the way for future attacks across Ukraine, while Kiev and the West say the now devastated city is of only symbolic importance.

Ukrainian President Vlodomir Zelensky has vowed to continue defending Bakhmut, but last week acknowledged the possibility of withdrawing forces if they were in danger of being encircled.

Russian forces have made only small gains in their advance through eastern Ukraine.

Kiev says hostile forces have suffered heavy losses after the mobilization of some 300,000 recruits began late last year.

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