© Reuters. An aerial view shows billowing smoke, in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in a still image taken from an undated video obtained from social media. @combat.art.ukraine via Instagram/via REUTERS
By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine scorned Russia’s claim to have captured the eastern city of Bakhmut on Monday, saying its enemies had raised victory flags over “some kind of toilet” during the fighting. is going on fiercely.
The battle for Bakhmut was one of the bloodiest of the conflict, now in its second year, with many casualties on both sides and the city largely destroyed by bombardment.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, commander of the Wagner mercenary force leading the siege, said on Sunday his troops had planted a Russian flag on the administrative building in the city center, although Ukrainian troops still held some positions. mind.
“From a legal point of view, Bakhmut has been appropriated,” he said in the video on Telegram. “The enemy is concentrated in the west.”
Prigozhin had previously made statements too soon.
The Ukrainian military said fighting was still raging around the Bakhmut city council building, as well as in several other nearby towns.
“Bakhmut is Ukrainian and they haven’t captured anything and are a long way from that,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the eastern military command, told Reuters.
“They raised a flag on some sort of toilet. They stuck it to the side for some unknown reason, hung rags and said they’d captured the city. Well, let’s make them think they’ve taken it. , ” Cherevatyi added over the phone .
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said fighting had engulfed central Bakhmut, with 25 Russian attacks repelled but the AZOM metal plant captured.
“The enemy is attacking the city center from the north, east and south and is trying to take full control of the city,” Zhdanov said in a YouTube video.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
A mining city and logistics hub on the edge of a stretch of Russian-controlled Donetsk Oblast, Bakhmut had a population of 70,000 before Moscow invaded Ukraine last February.
Russian forces, mired in a war of attrition after a series of defeats, were seeking victory from the winter offensive but suffered heavy casualties around Bakhmut.
Ukrainian military commanders say their own counter-offensive – supported by newly transferred Western tanks and other equipment – is not far away but have emphasized the importance of capturing Bakhmut and causing loss in the meantime.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (810-mile) border with Russia, will join NATO on Tuesday, marking the completion of a rapid passage to the Western military alliance following its invasion of Ukraine. Russia, officials said.
In response, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Russia would strengthen its military capabilities in the western and northwestern regions of the country, state news agency RIA reported.
“In the event that the forces and resources of other NATO members are deployed in Finland, we will take additional steps to reliably ensure the military security of Russia,” he said. with RIA.
In warning to the West about arming Ukraine, Russian officials have increasingly raised the risk of nuclear weapons being used in war, and last month said they would deploy nuclear weapons. tactics in neighboring Belarus.
Moscow’s ambassador to Minsk said on Sunday that Russia would move nuclear weapons closer to its western border with Belarus – a move that would put them on NATO’s doorstep.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, will visit Moscow on Wednesday, a Russian envoy said.
Grossi will meet a Russian delegation and discuss the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, located in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine, near the front line between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Russia called the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation”, arguing that Kiev’s relationship with the West posed a security threat. Kiev and the West call the war an unprovoked attack to subjugate an independent state.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides were killed. Russia has destroyed Ukrainian cities and forced millions of people to flee their homes, and claims to have annexed nearly one-fifth of Ukraine’s territory.
In Moscow, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of organizing Sunday’s murder of a prominent war blogger at a St Petersburg coffee shop and arresting a Russian woman in police video admitting to planting a bomb.
A Ukrainian official said it was only a matter of time before Russia was destroyed by “domestic terrorists”.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday honored nearly 400 residents of the village of Yahidne in northern Ukraine, who were detained in the basement of a school under Russian occupation for 27 days before their release. by a year ago.
When asked about a Ukrainian counterattack, he said: “We will do it, and they have to know that we will do it, and they have time to run away, or we will kill them. .”