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Ukrainian War: kyiv denies Wagner’s claim to have captured Bakhmut | Ukraine

Russia claims to have fully captured the destroyed eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, which would mark the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the 15-month war, although the claim has denied by Ukraine earlier today.

The assault on the largely razed town was led by troops from the Wagner mercenary group, whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday his troops had finally pushed the Ukrainians out of the last built-up area inside the city.

Taking Bakhmut – which Russia refers to by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk – would represent Moscow’s first major victory in the conflict in more than 10 months.

“As a result of the offensive actions of Wagner’s assault units, supported by artillery and aviation of the Southern Group of Forces, the liberation of Artyomovsk was completed,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. a statement.

Kyiv denied Prigozhin’s request earlier on Saturday. “Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said on Telegram.

She said Ukrainian troops were “holding the defense” in the city’s “plane zone”.

“From now on, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure installations in the region,” she said. There was no immediate response from Ukraine to the Russian Defense Ministry statement.

It has not been possible to verify either claim.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the troops for capturing the city and said those who distinguished themselves would receive awards, Russian news agencies reported.

The claims came after a week in which Ukrainian forces made their fastest gains in six months on the northern and southern flanks of Bakhmut.

Prigozhin, who repeatedly denounced the Russian regular army for abandoning ground captured earlier by his men, said his own forces would withdraw from Bakhmut in five days to rest, handing over the ruins to the regular army. .

“Today at noon Bakhmut was completely taken,” Prigozhin said in a video in which he appeared in combat gear in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners. “We completely took over the whole city, from house to house.”

Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi, reacting to Prigozhin’s comments ahead of Russia’s announcement, told Reuters: “That’s not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.“

Whether the Ukrainian forces left Bakhmut or not, they slowly retreated inland, to clusters of buildings at the western end of the city.

Meanwhile, to the north and south, they seized swaths of territory from Russian troops.

Russia has acknowledged losing ground around Bakhmut last week, while denying Prigozhin’s claims that flanks around the town guarded by regular troops have collapsed.

Kiev claims that its objective in Bakhmut was to draw Russian forces from elsewhere on the front into the city, inflict heavy casualties there, and weaken Moscow’s defensive line elsewhere ahead of a planned major counter-offensive.

The battle for Bakhmut exposed a growing rift between Wagner, a mercenary force that recruited thousands of convicts from Russian prisons, and the regular Russian army. For two weeks, Prigozhin aired daily video and audio messages denouncing Russian military leadership, often in expletive-laden rants.

In Saturday’s video, he said that due to the “whims” of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, “five times more guys died than they should have “. He thanked Putin “for giving us this chance and this great honor to defend our homeland”.

Moscow has long claimed that capturing Bakhmut would be a stepping stone to a deeper advance in the Donbass region it claims to have annexed to Ukraine. He made it the primary target of a massive offensive that failed to capture any significant ground elsewhere.

Prigozhin acknowledged that Bakhmut, once a city of 70,000, is of little strategic importance, despite its enormous symbolic significance due to the scale of casualties in Europe’s bloodiest ground battle since World War II.

Saturday’s claims came as Kiev prepared for its counter-offensive, the next major phase of the war after six months in which it kept its forces on the defensive while resisting Russia’s major offensive.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attended the G7 summit of major industrial powers in Japan on Saturday, winning pledges of support, including a signal from Washington that it would now support training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets. Previously, sending fighter jets was a taboo.


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