Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky denied on Sunday that the key city of Bakhmut in the east of the country had been captured by Russia.
The Russian paramilitary group Wagner, whose troops were at the forefront of the fighting, and Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday that Bakhmut had been “totally liberated”.
“Baymut today is not occupied by Russia”said the Ukrainian president. But he did not provide further details to the press. “I can’t share the tactical views of our military with you,” he said.
In recent months, that city has become the epicenter of the fighting in the war launched by Russia in February 2022.
Russian troops are in Bakhmut, but “the city is not occupied,” Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said Sunday on the sidelines of a G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, which he attended to seek diplomatic support and military aid.
“The most difficult thing would be if there was a tactical error in Bakhmut and our men were surrounded,” he added.
Earlier, his spokesman, Sergei Nykyforov, had specified on Facebook that the Ukrainian president “denies the capture of Bakhmut” after Zelenski made somewhat confused statements.
These ambiguous statements occurred when Zelensky responded to the press when asked: “Is Bakhmut still in the hands of Ukraine? Russians say they have taken Bakhmut”, to which the president replied: “I think not”, but it wasn’t clear whether he was answering the first part of the question or the second.
“They must understand that there is nothing left” there, “today Bakhmut is only in our hearts”, added the Ukrainian leader, who compared Bakhmut’s situation to that of Hiroshima after the explosion of the atomic bomb.
“There is absolutely nothing alive, all buildings are destroyed. Absolute and total destruction,” he said.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said Kiev’s forces had “partially surrounded” Bakhmut thanks to their advances north and south of the city, which “makes the enemy’s presence very difficult” in the city.
Again, he indicated that Ukrainian forces continue to control “certain industrial facilities and infrastructure” in that city.
The capture of Bakhmut, which in recent months had been 90% taken by the Russians, was claimed on Saturday by Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who gave assurances that on May 25 he would hand over control of the city to the Russian army.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Wagner fighters and the Russian military for “the realization of the liberation operation” of Bakhmut and promised to reward soldiers who distinguished themselves in the battle, which began last summer.
If confirmed, Bakhmut’s fall would allow Russia to score a key victory after a series of humiliating defeats, even as Ukraine says it is preparing a major counter-offensive with the support of Western-supplied weapons.
On the sidelines of the G7 summit, Volodimir Zelensky met several leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who stressed that Putin “will not break” the “determination” of Westerners to support Ukraine.
During that meeting, Zelensky obtained a promise that the United States would supply Ukraine with more ammunition, artillery and armored vehicles, after Washington agreed to deliver the F-16 fighter jets that Kiev had long been asking for.
According to Biden, the Ukrainian president “firmly assured” him that Kiev will not attack Russian territory with those planes.
Moscow and Kiev are believed to have suffered heavy losses in Bakhmut, a pre-war city of around 70,000 inhabitants that is now largely destroyed in the fighting.
The battle for that city also gave rise to open conflict between Wagner’s chief and the Russian General Staff, which Yevgeny Prigozhin accuses of deliberately not supplying his men with enough ammunition to weaken the paramilitary group.
In addition, Prigozhin accused Russian troops of abandoning their positions near Bakhmut, while Ukraine this week claimed responsibility for seizing more than 20km2 north and south of the city from Moscow’s forces.
Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.