On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed that Russian troops were not occupying Bakhmut, dismissing Moscow’s allegation that the eastern Ukrainian city was occupied.
At the Group of Seven meeting in Japan, Zelenskyy responded to a reporter’s inquiry on the city’s status, saying, “The Russian Federation does not occupy Bakhmut as of today.”
“We are not throwing people (away) to die,” Zelenskyy declared through an interpreter in Ukrainian. “The treasure is people.” What is going on in Bakhmut is crystal clear to me. I can’t tell you the technical intricacies of what’s going on with our fighters.”
“The fight for Bakhmut continues,” the Ukrainian military’s general staff said late Sunday night.
The fog of war made it impossible to determine the situation on the ground during the most extended combat of the invasion, and a succession of pronouncements from Ukrainian and Russian officials added to the confusion.
Zelenskyy’s reaction in English to an inquiry regarding the state of Bakhmut earlier in the summit suggested that he believed the city had fallen to Russian forces, and he spoke solemnly about its fate.
When asked if the city was in Ukrainian hands, Zelenskyy responded, “I think no, but you have to understand that there is nothing. They’ve destroyed everything.” There are no structures. It’s a shame. It’s tragic.”
“However, Bakhmut is only in our hearts for now.” “There’s nothing here, just ground and many dead Russians,” he explained. Later, Zelenskyy’s press secretary retracted those remarks.
Ukrainian defense and military sources, the violent battle continues. Hanna Malyar, Deputy Defense Minister, went so far as to state that Ukrainian troops “took the city in a semi-encirclement.”
“The enemy failed to surround Bakhmut, and they lost part of the dominant heights around the city,” Malyar explained. “The advance of our troops in the suburbs along the flanks, which is still ongoing, greatly complicates the enemy’s presence in Bakhmut.”
Serhii Cherevaty, Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces spokesman, stated that the Ukrainian military is holding positions near Bakhmut.
“The president was correct when he stated that the city had been razed. Massive artillery and aviation strikes destroy the enemy daily, and our forces say the situation is extremely difficult.
“Our military maintains fortifications and several facilities in the city’s southwest.” “There is heavy fighting going on,” he stated.
After eight months of fierce combat, it was merely the latest reversal of the situation in Bakhmut.
Only hours before, Russian state news agencies reported that President Vladimir Putin congratulated “Wagner assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces units, who provided them with the necessary support and flank protection, on the successful completion of the operation to liberate Artyomovsk,” Bakhmut’s Soviet-era name.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, Wagner, and military units “completed the liberation” of Bakhmut.
During a press appearance during the G-7 summit in Japan, Zelenskyy appeared alongside US Vice President Joe Biden. Biden promised an additional $375 million in aid for Ukraine, including more ammunition, artillery, and vehicles.
“I thanked him for (the United States’) significant financial assistance to (Ukraine),” Zelenskyy subsequently tweeted.
The latest vow comes after the United States agreed to enable training on American-made F-16 fighter jets, paving the way for their eventual deployment to Ukraine.
According to Biden, Zelenskyy gave the US a “flat assurance” that Ukraine would not deploy the F-16s to target Russian territory.
Many commentators believe that even if Russia won in Bakhmut, it would unlikely change the course of the conflict.
The Russian takeover of the final remaining territory in Bakhmut is “not tactically or operationally significant.”
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The Institute for the Study of War, gaining control of these locations “does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations,” nor “to defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks.”
In a video on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin stated that the city was entirely under Russian control at about midday Saturday. He spoke, surrounded by around a half-dozen combatants, with wrecked buildings in the backdrop and distant explosions.
Russian soldiers continued attempting to conquer the last portion of the Donetsk region under Ukrainian control, including numerous heavily fortified locations.
It’s unclear who paid the highest price in the war for Bakhmut. Russia and Ukraine have suffered losses in the thousands, though neither has revealed casualty figures.
In a March interview with The Associated Press, Zelenskyy emphasized the necessity of protecting Bakhmut, saying that its fall could allow Russia to garner international support for an agreement that would oblige Kyiv to make humiliating concessions.
Bakhmut’s collapse would be a setback to Ukraine and provide Russia with some tactical benefits, but it would not be critical in the war’s outcome.
Bakhmut, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, had a prewar population of 80,000 people and was a central industrial hub surrounded by salt and gypsum mines.
When Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, the city was named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolutionary. It was also noted for its sparkling wine manufacturing in underground caverns.
Its broad tree-lined avenues, verdant parks, and stately downtown with grand late-nineteenth-century homes which have now been transformed into a blazing wasteland — made it a popular tourist destination.
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Zelenskyy denies Ukrainian city of Bakhmut occupied by Russian forces https://t.co/1We0N0iy5I
— KOAT.com (@koat7news) May 21, 2023
When a separatist insurgency seized eastern Ukraine in 2014, just weeks after Moscow’s unlawful annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the rebels quickly took control, only to relinquish power a few months later.
Following a botched attempt to grab Kyiv early in the February 2022 invasion, Russia’s troops attempted to take Bakhmut in August but were forced back.
The battle there slowed in the autumn as Russia faced Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and south, but it picked up again late last year. Russia seized the salt-mining town of Soledar, just north of Bakhmut, in January and advanced on the city’s outskirts.
Intense Russian shelling attacked the city and surrounding towns as Moscow launched a three-pronged assault to crush the resistance in what Ukrainians dubbed “fortress Bakhmut.”
Wagner mercenaries led the Russian onslaught. Prigozhin attempted to utilize the war for the city to strengthen his position amid conflicts with top Russian military officers, whom he fiercely insulted.
“In Bakhmut, we fought not only with Ukrainian armed forces. “We fought the Russian bureaucracy, which put sand in the wheels,” Prigozhin said in a video released on Saturday.
The persistent Russian artillery bombardment and fierce house-to-house combat left few houses standing. Wagner fighters “marched on the bodies of their own soldiers.” Both sides have spent ammunition at a rate never seen before in any armed battle, firing thousands of rounds daily.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has stated that conquering the city will allow Russia to extend its offensive farther into the Donetsk area, one of four Ukrainian provinces illegally acquired by Moscow in September.
Susie Blann reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Elise Morton from London. Elaine Kurtenbach and Adam Schreck contributed to this report from Hiroshima.
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