The status of the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut was questioned after Russia claimed it had taken control of it with the help of Wagner’s forces, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke solemnly of the town.
Speaking in Hiroshima, Japan, at the G-7 summit on Sunday, Zelenskyy remarked that Bakhmut was ‘only in our hearts’, hours after the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have taken him .
“Mr. President, is Bakhmut still in the hands of Ukraine? The Russians say they took Bakhmut,” a reporter asked Zelenskyy and President Biden at the summit.
“I think not. But you have to transcend the fact that there is nothing. They destroyed everything. There are no buildings,” Zelenskyy replied.
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“It’s a pity, it’s a tragedy but today Bakhmut is only in our hearts,” added the Ukrainian president. “There is nothing in this place. Just drones and a lot of dead Russians. But they came to us. So our defenders in Bakhmut, they did a great job. And of course we appreciate them for their excellent work.”
Biden, later speaking to reporters in Hiroshima, added: “Bakhmut is a discussion about whether he was lost or whatever. And, well, the truth is that the Russians suffered over 100 000 casualties in Bakhmut It’s hard to do It’s hard to invent So whether or not there are troops in Bakhmut occupying there are not many buildings left standing in Bakhmut It’s a city pretty devastated. But they were able to move in a direction that they were able to lock down a lot of Russian forces, including the Wagner group.”
The Russian ministry’s statement on the Telegram channel came about eight hours after a similar announcement by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. Ukrainian authorities, however, said at the time that the fighting for Bakhmut continued.
The eight-month battle for Bakhmut was the longest and perhaps the bloodiest of the conflict in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy’s comments on Sunday morning came as Biden announced an additional $375 million in aid to Ukraine, which included more munitions, artillery and vehicles.
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Analysts said a Russian victory at Bakhmut was unlikely to turn the tide of the war, according to The Associated Press.
Russia’s capture of the last remaining ground in Bakhmut is “not tactically or operationally significant,” a Washington-based think tank said on Saturday. The Institute for the Study of War said that the takeover of these areas “does not grant Russian forces significant operational ground to continue conducting offensive operations”, nor to “defend against possible Ukrainian counter-attacks”.
Using the city’s Soviet-era name, the Russian ministry said: “In the tactical direction of Artyomovsk, the assault teams of the private military company Wagner with the support of artillery and aviation of the southern battle group completed the liberation of the city of Artyomovsk. “
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Russian state news agencies quoted the Kremlin press service as saying that President Vladimir Putin “congratulates Wagner’s assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of units of the Russian Armed Forces, who provided them with the necessary flank support and protection, following the operation to liberate Artyomovsk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.