Bakhmut: Ukraine denies losing Bakhmut to Russia after epic battles

Kyiv: President Volodymyr Zelensky denied Bakhmut had fallen into Russian hands, its spokesman said on Sunday, while admitting that there was “nothing left” of the razed town after the longest battle of the war.
A day after President Vladimir Putin congratulated his troops and the private mercenary group Wagner who claimed to have taken the symbolic target, Zelensky suggested it would be a Pyrrhic victory for Moscow in a lengthy emotional response.
“You have to understand that there is nothing” there in Bakhmut, he said, sitting next to US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.
“For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts.”
Zelenskyy’s spokesman had to clarify that the Ukrainian president had not confirmed the loss of Bakhmut to Russian troops.
“The president denied Bakhmut’s capture,” spokesman Sergiy Nykyforov said on Facebook.
The loss of Bakhmut would be extremely symbolic for the Ukrainians, who had held their ground for months, ignoring behind-the-scenes American advice to concentrate elsewhere given the city’s lack of strategic importance in the larger war.
Zelenskyy was unclear in his response when asked: “Is Bakhmut still in Ukraine’s hands? The Russians say they took Bakhmut.”
He said, “I don’t think so.”
“There is nothing in this place… just ruins and a lot of dead Russians,” he told reporters.
Saturday’s announcement from the Russian military came hours after kyiv said the battle was continuing, while admitting the situation was “critical”.
Bakhmut, a mining town that once had a population of 70,000, was the scene of the longest and bloodiest fighting in Ukraine’s Moscow offensive that lasted more than a year.
The fall of Bakhmut, where Moscow and Kyiv would have suffered huge losses, would allow Moscow to secure a key victory after a series of humiliating defeats.
It would also precede a major counter-offensive that kyiv has been preparing for months. Zelenskyy himself warned that the loss of the city would pave the way for Russian troops to seize more of the Donbass region.
“As a result of the offensive actions of Wagner’s assault units, with the support of artillery and aviation from the ‘south’ unit, the liberation of the city of Artemovsk was completed,” said the Russian Defense Ministry, using the Soviet-era name of Bakhmut.
“Vladimir Putin congratulated Wagner’s assault units and all servicemen of the units of the Russian Armed Forces who provided them with the necessary support and flank cover, at the end of the operation to liberate” the city , reported the TASS news agency citing a Kremlin. statement as saying.
– Decor of ruins – Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin previously claimed that Bakhmut had fallen to his mercenaries in a video posted on Telegram against a backdrop of ruins.
“Today, May 20, around noon, Bakhmut was taken in its entirety,” Prigozhin said, adding that Wagner’s fighters would search the town before handing it over to the Russian army.
“By May 25, we will completely examine (Bakhmut), create the necessary lines of defense and hand them over to the army,” Prigozhin said.
Artillery fire could be heard in the background of Prigozhin’s video.
Ukraine, which this month claimed success in and around Bakhmut, said on Saturday the battle was not over.
“Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said on Telegram.
She said Ukrainian troops were “holding the defense” in the city’s “plane zone”.
“From now on, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in the region,” she said.
It was not possible for AFP to verify either claim.
Zelenskyy made a surprise appearance at the Hiroshima summit on Saturday – another diplomatic stunt the day after he attended the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia.
In Japan, Biden, who has spearheaded Western support for Ukraine with sanctions and supplies, announced a new arms package for Kyiv.
The package would include “ammunition, artillery, armored vehicles,” Biden said.
The Ukrainian president met not only with the leaders of the G7 in Japan, but also those of other key international players such as the non-aligned powers of Brazil and India.
The fruits of his diplomatic efforts have already borne fruit, with the United States announcing on Friday that it would allow kyiv to acquire F-16 fighter jets, the most sophisticated equipment ever supplied by the West.
– “Meat grinder” – Prigozhin meanwhile continued his ongoing battle with the Russian military establishment.
“The operation to capture Bakhmut – the Bakhmut meat grinder – lasted 224 days,” said Prigozhin, dressed in a camouflage uniform. Moscow’s losses would have been much less had it not been for the incompetent generals, he added.
It is believed that Wagner suffered huge casualties during the months-long storming of the city. Prigozhin has long complained that Wagner does not receive the proper amounts of ammunition.
“There was only Wagner here (in Bakhmut),” he said in the video. “We not only fought the Ukrainian army here, we fought the Russian bureaucracy.”
He blamed Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov for turning the offensive into “their own amusement”.
Both sides are now waiting for a counter-offensive announced by the Ukrainian authorities. Zelenskyy said recently that his army needed more time before launching the assault.


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