Ukraine says it still has a grip on Bakhmut despite Putin’s ‘release’ demand – POLITICO
KYIV – Ukraine has said its forces still control a small part of Bakhmut despite Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday hailing the “liberation” of the besieged eastern Ukrainian town from Russian forces.
When asked on Sunday whether the Russians had taken Bakhmut, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky replied “I think not,” during a press conference at the G7 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan.
Russia’s mercenary Wagner Force on Saturday claimed the capture of the industrial city in the Donbass region, which was the center of some of the fiercest fighting during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Putin on Sunday congratulated the paramilitary group Wagner and the Russian army “for the completion of the operation to liberate” Bakhmut, according to a statement published on the Kremlin’s website.
But Ukrainian officials said several buildings in the southwestern part of the city remained under Kyiv’s control.
“It was a small area that remained under our control, but Bakhmut fulfilled its key task. We managed to hold the enemy – for more than nine months – and inflicted colossal losses on the most important strike force from the Kremlin, the Wagner mercenaries,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Command, told POLITICO on Sunday.
There was some confusion over Zelenskyy’s remarks in Japan, but his spokesman Sergii Nykyforov clarified that the president had denied that Moscow had full control over Bakhmut.
While speaking to reporters at the G7 summit on Sunday, Zelensky was asked: “Is Bakhmut still in Ukraine’s hands?” The Russians say they took Bakhmut. Zelenskyy replied: “I think not. But you have to understand that they destroyed everything. Nothing is left. It’s a tragedy.
“For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts. There is nothing there. Just a lot of dead Russians,” Zelenskyy said.
Later in Hiroshima, Zelenskyy clarified that Bakhmut had not been fully captured by Russian forces. “We always fight and defend through our warriors,” he said.
Cherevatyi, the Eastern Command spokesman, said Ukrainian forces were advancing around Bakhmut. “The situation is difficult, but it is under control. As we attack the enemy on the southern and northern flanks around the city,” he said.
“Over the past 24 hours, we managed to advance an average of 200 meters from the southern and northern flanks,” Cherevatyi said.
He said the main objective of the Ukrainian army in Bakhmut was to destroy the Wagner mercenaries, a private paramilitary group linked to the Kremlin and financed by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. “They showed themselves as the most combat-ready and effective force in the Russian army. And now they are almost destroyed,” Cherevatyi said.
On Saturday, Prigozhin had said in a video posted on Telegram that Bakhmut had come under full Russian control around noon on Saturday.
Earlier this month, Wagner commanders accused Moscow of artificially creating shell shortages for the mercenary force and causing mass casualties. Wagner accused the Kremlin of being jealous of the group’s successes on the front lines, especially after Defense Ministry units were forced to withdraw from Kharkiv and Kherson during the Ukrainian counteroffensive in September. 2022.