Ukrainian troops were able to semi-encircle the city of Bakhmut and fight Russian forces in the area, according to Hanna Maliar, the Ukrainian deputy defense minister, on Sunday.
“The enemy failed to surround Bakhmut and they lost part of the dominant heights around the city. This means that the advance of our troops in the suburbs along the flanks, which is still ongoing, makes it very difficult for the enemy to stay in Bakhmut.Our troops took the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy. Therefore, the enemy [Russia] has to defend itself in the part of the city it controls,” Maliar wrote on Telegram.
The deputy defense minister added in her post that Ukrainian troops still have control over industrial and infrastructure facilities, and the private sector in the Litak area in Bakhmut.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his “special military operation” on Ukraine last February, aiming for a quick victory over his Eastern European neighbor. However, after more than a year of fighting, combat remains concentrated in the easternmost regions of Ukraine as several issues including a lack of motivated forces plague Moscow’s ranks.
Bakhmut, a city in Eastern Ukraine within the country’s Donetsk region, has been the site of a monthslong battle between Ukrainian and Russian troops, with both sides claiming victory in the city.
Maliar’s remarks came a day after the Wagner Group, a private paramilitary unit, claimed “victory” in Bakhmut, with the group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin saying that the city was “fully taken” by Russian forces. The Russian Defense Ministry also backed the claim, stating that the “offensive actions” of the Wagner forces and the Russian troops had “completed” the capture of the city.
Prigozhin posted a video to his Telegram channel on Saturday of him holding a Russian flag in front of his troops and claiming that his forces had taken full control over the city, which Ukraine has denied.
“At noon on the 20 May, 2023, Bakhmut was fully taken. We have completely taken the whole city, from house to house,” the Wagner leader said, adding that his forces would hand Bakhmut over to the Russian military next week.
However, Prigozhin’s remarks still contradicted what Ukrainian Ground Forces’ Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said about the Ukrainian military continuing its operations as it advances along the flanks in Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian news agency Pravda.
“Despite the fact that we now control a small part of Bakhmut, the importance of its defense does not lose its relevance. This provides us with opportunities to enter the city in case of a change of circumstances. And this will certainly happen,” Syrskyi said.
The colonel general continued: “We continue to advance along the flanks in the suburbs of Bakhmut and are actually close to tactically encircling the city. Thanks to this, we will be able to control all multi-story buildings occupied by the enemy and gradually destroy them. This deprives the enemy of control over the approaches to the city and gives us certain tactical advantages.”
Serhii Cherevatyi, the spokesperson for the Eastern Group of Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, recently said that the Ukrainian military are still maintaining their positions in the southwestern part of Bakhmut, according to Pravda.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based think tank, cited Russian military bloggers earlier this week, who said that Ukrainian troops “drove through” the Russian defensive lines south and southwest of Ivanivske and northwest of Klischiivka. They also added that Russian forces withdrew north of Sakko i Vantsetti, which is around 9 miles north of Bakhmut, and moved to new positions.
Newsweek reached out by email to the Russian and Ukrainian foreign affairs ministries for comment.