Wagner Group mercenary fighters have taken control of about 90 percent of the city of Bakhmut, according to a report from Russian state-owned media.
The eastern industrial city in Ukraine has been the epicenter of heavy fighting for months, with Wagner forces taking a prominent role in Russia’s offensive. The U.K. Ministry of Defense reported Tuesday that Moscow’s troops were making “creeping advances” around the city, and on Sunday, the Russian defense ministry claimed that Wagner had “liberated” territory in the northwestern and southeastern parts of Bakhmut.
On Tuesday, Russian news agency TASS reported that the private fighters had nearly total control of the embattled city, quoting a report from Yan Gagin, adviser to the Donetsk People’s Republic.
“The Wagner private military company controls about 90 percent of Artyomovsk and its advance is inevitable,” Gagin told the outlet. Bakhmut was formally named Artyomovsk when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.
The report from TASS has not been independently verified. Newsweek has contacted Ukraine’s defense ministry via email for comment.
The reported advances in Bakhmut arrive as Russian President Vladimir Putin visited two different occupied regions in Ukraine that Moscow has claimed to have annexed. The Kremlin said that Russia had annexed Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk in the fall, although Kyiv and Western allies, including the United States, have called the move illegitimate.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Russia only has partial control of the four Ukrainian regions. Moscow troops have also been accused by Kyiv and its allies of committing war crimes in the occupied territories, although Russia denies the accusations.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also met with some of Kyiv’s fighters in the Donetsk region on Tuesday, his office said, visiting some of Ukraine’s front-line positions in the eastern city of Avdiivka. Zelensky also stopped by a hospital in the region and awarded some military personnel with medals for their “Military Service to Ukraine.”
In his nightly address, Zelensky thanked troops and medical personnel fighting in the Donetsk and Poltava regions, although the Ukrainian president made no mention of Russian forces reportedly progressing in Bakhmut.
Ukrainian General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said in a statement Tuesday that Russian forces were “increasing the activity of heavy artillery and the number of airstrikes” in Bakhmut, adding that the shelling was “turning the city into ruins,” according to Reuters.
Syrskyi also claimed that Russia was willing to fight for Bakhmut “at any cost,” adding that Moscow was suffering heavy losses in the city. General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously called Bakhmut a “slaughter-fest for the Russians,” although both Moscow and Kyiv have suffered heavy casualties along the front lines.