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Ukraine denies Russia's Wagner claim to have captured Bakhmut

21.05.2023 07:30
Ukrainian troops are maintaining a defence in Bakhmut and claims by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to have captured the eastern city are “not true,” Ukraine’s officials have said. 

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Saturday that the situation in Bakhmut was “critical,” but added that “the city is still defending itself,” Polish state news agency PAP reported. 

Maliar stated that Ukrainian troops were maintaining a defence in the south-western part of Bakhmut, according to PAP. 

The deputy defence minister said on the Telegram messaging app: “Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical.”

She added: “As of now, our defenders control some industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area and the private sector.”

Maliar’s statement came after Wagner leader Yevgheny Prigozhin on Saturday said that Bakhmut had been “completely taken… the whole city, from house to house.”

Prigozhin made the claim in a video in which he appeared in combat fatigues in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners, the Reuters news agency reported.

The Wagner chief said: "Today, at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken. We completely took the whole city, from house to house."

Prigozhin added that his forces would withdraw from Bakhmut from May 25 for rest and retraining, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported.

Capturing the smashed eastern Ukrainian city would mark an end to the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s 15-month full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to news outlets.

Moreover, taking Bakhmut, to which Russia refers by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk, would represent Moscow's first big victory in the conflict in more than 10 months, Reuters reported.

"As a result of offensive actions by Wagner assault units, supported by artillery and aviation of the Southern Group of Forces, the liberation of Artyomovsk has been completed," the Russian defence ministry said in a brief statement on Saturday. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated troops on seizing the city and said those who had distinguished themselves would be given awards, according to The Guardian.

Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi, reacting to Prigozhin's comments before Russia's announcement, told the Reuters news agency: "This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut."

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the office of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, said that Prigozhin’s claims were designed “to deflect attention from the overwhelming support for Ukraine” during Zelensky’s series of foreign visits in recent days, the PAP news agency reported.

On Saturday, Ukraine’s president arrived at a Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan, to seek further support for his country’s war effort against the Russian invasion.

Earlier, the G7 leaders  condemned Russia’s “brutal” war on Ukraine “in the strongest possible terms,” describing it as a “serious violation of international law” and calling for “just and lasting peace,” according to news outlets.

The world leaders also recommitted their intention to provide Ukraine with military, financial and humanitarian support, with US President Joe Biden saying America would allow allies to provide US-made F-16 and other advanced fighter jets to help Ukraine fight the Russian invasion, The Guardian reported. 

Wagner’s and Russia’s claims also came after a week in which Ukrainian forces had made their most rapid gains for six months on Bakhmut's northern and southern flanks, Reuters reported.  

Sunday is day 452 of Russia’s war on Ukraine.


Source: PAP, Reuters, The Guardian