The Ukrainian city of Soledar is reportedly under the grip of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group, although Kiev claims its soldiers are holding out.
According to a statement allegedly made by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner, Ukrainians were now encircled in the city centre, according to Russian media.
Hanna Maliar, the deputy minister of defence for Ukraine, had earlier stated that “intense fighting is still going on.”
There is no independent verification of the assertions made by either side.
Mr. Prigozhin issued a statement late on Tuesday, saying: “Wagner units took control of the entire territory of Soledar. A cauldron has been formed in the centre of the city in which urban fighting is going on.”
Only Wagner fighters, who are not members of the Russian military, were emphasised as participating in “the storming” of Soledar.
Ms. Maliar had earlier stated that the enemy does not pay attention to the significant casualties of its men.
“The approaches to our positions are simply strewn with the bodies of dead enemy fighters. Our fighters are defending bravely,” she said.
Soledar, a tiny salt mining settlement in the Donetsk region, could fall, which would enable Russian forces to encircle Bakhmut, a strategically important city nearby.
The Russian military and the mercenary Wagner Group were “likely” in charge of the town at this point, the UK reported early on Tuesday.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, said on Monday that Soledar had “virtually no life” and “no whole walls left.”
He said: “This is what madness looks like.”
And late on Tuesday, in a new speech, Mr. Zelensky hailed the Ukrainian forces’ fortitude.
Although Soledar’s strategic value is debatable, its conquest would be crucial for two reasons.
First of all, it would enable Russian forces to go a little bit nearer to the nearby city of Bakhmut. Soledar’s extensive network of salt mine tunnels, which have been idle since April, can be used by Russia to infiltrate areas under Ukrainian control.
Secondly, occupying armies would have the opportunity to give Ukraine a taste of its own medecine.
A factor in Kyiv’s success in liberating land has been its capacity to hit Russian supply routes.
Thousands of invading forces have frequently been prevented from resupplying with men, ammunition, fuel, and food as well as from freely moving military equipment by long-range missile attacks.
Soledar, which had 10,000 residents before the war, would be taken over, essentially cutting Bakhmut off from a crucial supply route from nearby Sloviansk.
The UK stated that it thought Soledar was on the verge of surrendering to Russia, but noted that because to Ukraine’s “solid defence lines,” Bakhmut was “unlikely” to be taken by Moscow right away.
A “substantial section” of Soledar is in Russian hands, according to a senior military officer from the US Department of Defense who made the statement on Monday.
Since Bakhmut has been the scene of fighting for months, the US source referred to the most recent skirmishes as “savage.”
Two British nationals who were last spotted travelling to Soledar have vanished in the area.
Oleh Zhdanov, a well-known military analyst in Ukraine, thinks neither Soledar nor Bakhmut are particularly significant from an operational standpoint despite the protracted and hard battle.
During an interview with the Ukrainian newspaper Gazeta on Monday, Mr. Zhdanov claimed that Russia “is trying to prove to the entire world that its army is capable of winning.”
Prigozhin “will continue to use both confirmed and manufactured Wagner Group victories in Soledar and Bakhmut to present the Wagner Group as the sole Russian force in Ukraine capable of securing concrete advances,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank.
Since its invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, Russia has experienced numerous significant losses, including losing control of the sole regional capital in the south that it had able to seize.
Both a military and a propaganda win for the Kremlin would result from the capture of Soledar.
The advantages for Russia are modest and expensive, but seizing the town would be a much-needed victory for Putin to show his detractors back home in Russia.
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