Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russian mercenary company Wagner Group, claimed on Tuesday (Nov. 20) to have fully captured the eastern Ukrainian battleground of Bakhmut, a claim denied by Ukraine.
In a video released earlier in the day, Prigozhin said, “As of noon today, Bakhmut is completely under our control,” according to Reuters and AFP. We have taken over the entire city, building by building,” he said in the video.
Dressed in combat fatigues, he stood in front of soldiers carrying Russian and토토사이트 Wagnerian group flags, while explosions could be heard in the distance even as he spoke, Reuters reported.
Prigozhin said the Wagner Group would withdraw from Bakhmut on May 25 to allow troops to rest and retrain, and hand the area over to Russian regular forces.
He also mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is attending the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan, saying, “If you meet Biden (U.S. President) today, kiss his head and greet him for me.”
Ukraine denied Prigozhin’s claims, but acknowledged that the situation was not good.
“There is heavy fighting in Bakhmut,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram. The situation is serious,” she said on Telegram.
“At the moment, our defense forces control part of the industrial and infrastructure infrastructure in Bakhmut,” she added.
Earlier, Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevati responded to Prigozhyn’s claims, telling Reuters, “It’s not true. Our troops are fighting in Bakhmut.”
Bakhmut, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk Oblast, has been the scene of the country’s longest-running fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Wagner Group mercenaries have been waging a logistical offensive to capture the city for the past 10 months, while Ukraine has been defending it in a war of attrition.
While some have argued that Bakhmut has little strategic value, the protracted war of attrition on both sides has given it a symbolic significance that is difficult to relinquish for military morale. For Russia, capturing Bakhmut would be its first significant victory since last summer.
In March, the Prigozhins claimed to control 70% of Bakhmut, and last month they said they had seized the city’s administration building.
Ukraine has said each time that Prigozhin’s claims are untrue, but it has been losing control of Bakhmut over time.