Politics

Ukraine war: What is happening in the city of Bakhmut?

Head of Russia’s Wagner group claims to have captured Bakhmut

As the war in Ukraine – triggered by an illegal invasion by Vladimir Putin’s Russia – continues, attention has turned to the 400-year-old city of Bakhmut, as both sides fight to take control of the area following a fresh Ukrainian offensive.

Located near the eastern city of Donetsk, Bakhmut was an industrial centre before Russian troops marched into Ukraine last year. There’s strategic roads near the city which are useful for logistics, and analysts say Putin needs to claim victory in the city if he wants his unlawful occupation to be successful – especially when it comes to capturing Donetsk.

It has been the centre of conflicting reports from both Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and Putin as to which state currently holds the part of the country.

So, what is each side saying?

Russia: Shadowy private army claims Bakhmut has been “completely taken”

The Wagner Group is a private military unit helmed by businessman and Putin associate Yevgeny Prigozhin, and on Saturday, the group claimed victory in Bakhmut.

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In a video posted to Telegram showing him lifting the Russian flag, Prigozhin is heard saying: “This afternoon at 12:00, Bakmut was completely taken.

“Until 25 May we will completely inspect [Bakhmut], create the necessary defence lines and hand it over to the military.”

Putin congratulated the Wagner troops a day later on “the completion of the operation to liberate Artemovsk” – Artemovsk being the Soviet name for Bakhmut.

Ukraine: The plan is to “exhaust” Russian forces, then “attack”

Not long after the Wagner group’s video surfaced, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said: “The situation is critical. As of now, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in this area.”

She added Russia had “failed to surround Bakhmut” and had “lost part of the dominant heights around the city”, with the ongoing advancement of Ukrainian troops “greatly [complicating] the enemy’s presence” in the area.

In a statement to the Associated Press, eastern command spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi added Prigozhin’s claim is “not true”.

“Our units are fighting in Bakhmut,” he said.

In fact, earlier this month, Russia’s military revealed two of Putin’s military commanders had been killed in the eastern region of Ukraine – with Colonel Vyacheslav Makarov killed while “personally [leading] the battle” and Colonel Yevgeny Brovko dying with “multiple shrapnel wounds”.

While the war continued in his home country, President Zelensky was asked at the G7 summit in Japan on Sunday whether Bakhmut was in the hands of Ukraine, to which he replied: “I think no, but you have to- to understand that there is nothing. They’ve destroyed everything.

“There are no buildings. It’s a pity. It’s a tragedy.”

Except Cherevaty would go on to clarify: “The president correctly said that the city has, in fact, been razed to the ground. The enemy is being destroyed every day by massive artillery and aviation strikes, and our units report that the situation is extremely difficult.

“Our military keep fortifications and several premises in the southwestern part of the city. Heavy fighting is underway.”

Then again, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of ground forces for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, conceded Ukraine now only controls “a small part of Bakhmut”, but that “this gives us the opportunity to enter the city in case of a change in the situation. And it will definitely happen.”

The “main idea”, according to comments made by Colonel Yevhen Mezheviken on Thursday, is to “exhaust them, then to attack”.

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