Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bakhmut was unoccupied – after Russia took control of the city after months of fierce fighting left it in ruins.
He said Ukrainian troops remained in the besieged eastern city, where he compared the devastation to that inflicted on Hiroshima in Japan after the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945.
Earlier, Mr Zelensky declared “there is nothing left” in Bakhmut and the invading forces had “destroyed everything”, fueling speculation that he had fallen.
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He came after the Russian president Vladimir Poutine praised his troops for capturing the city, which is in the Donetsk region.
The Kremlin Defense Ministry and the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, both had claimed the area was under Russian control SATURDAY.
But speaking after the G7 summit in Hiroshima, where he was seeking to rally international support, the Ukrainian leader said: “I clearly understand what is happening in Bakhmut.
“I cannot share with you the tactical views of our military, of our warriors.
“But from today, we see that the country which is dozens of times bigger than us, cannot occupy us, cannot win in this war.
“Bakhmut is not occupied by the Russian Federation to this day.”
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Mr Zelenskyy added: “Let me be sincere that the images of ruined Hiroshima really remind me, totally remind me of Bakhmut and other similar settlements and towns.
“All the same – nothing alive, all the buildings have been destroyed, it is not clear where the street is, where the houses were.
“It’s just a totally destroyed area, there’s nothing left, not a single person.”
Use the sliders below to see Maxar satellite images of a devastated Bakhmut 12 months ago compared to today
Reflecting on Hiroshima’s recovery, he said, “It’s the modern city of today that feels alive. There are the images of the Hiroshima tragedies, then the images of what we can see today.
“I consider that the same will happen in Bakhmut and other towns, settlements and villages etc. Certainly it will be like that.
“Unfortunately, today is a tragedy but in the future there will be reconstruction and recovery.”
At a separate press conference, US President Joe Biden promised that Western allies “will not waver” in their support for Ukraine and will provide assistance for as long as needed.
Mr Biden, having already paved the way for the supply of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, also announced an additional £301million in military aid, including munitions, artillery and vehicles .
He said: “The G7 reaffirmed our shared and unwavering commitment, let me repeat, our shared and unwavering commitment to support the brave people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia’s brutal war of aggression and war crimes committed.
“With our partner countries, we reiterated the need for a just peace that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
“Russia started the war and Russia could end it today by withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and ceasing its assault.”
Mr Biden added: “Ukraine’s ability to defend itself is critical to being able to end this war permanently and through diplomacy.
“This morning, I once again shared and assured President Zelenskyy, as well as all G7 members and our allies and partners around the world, that we will not hesitate.
“Putin will not break our resolve as he thought he could.
“We will continue to provide humanitarian and security assistance to Ukraine so that it can stay strong for as long as it needs to.”
Fighting raged in and around Bakhmut for more than eight months in the longest and possibly deadliest battle in the Ukrainian conflict to date, leaving few buildings standing.
Both Russia And Ukraine suffered losses estimated in the thousands, although none disclosed the number of casualties.
Kyiv has previously said its objective in Bakhmut was to draw in Russian forces and inflict heavy casualties to weaken Moscow’s defense before a major counteroffensive.
Mr Zelenskyy underscored the importance of defending the “Bakhmut fortress” in March, saying its downfall could earn Russia support for a deal that could force Kiev into unacceptable compromises.
Analysts said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give Russia tactical advantages, but would not be decisive for the outcome of the war.
Russian forces would still face the massive task of seizing the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas.
The provinces of Donetsk and neighboring Lugansk form Donbass – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – where a separatist uprising began in 2014 and which Moscow illegally annexed in September.