Despite claims to the contrary from Kiev, Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group have reportedly established control of the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar.
The Wagner group’s leader, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, was quoted as saying in Russian media that the Ukrainians had been surrounded in the downtown area.
Defense Minister Hanna Maliar’s prior statement that “intense fighting is occurring” in Ukraine stands.
Neither side’s assertions have been checked by a third party.
Mr Prigozhin was quoted as saying in a statement released late Tuesday night: “It was determined that all of Soledar’s territory would fall under Wagner’s rule. The urban conflict has boiled over into the city’s core, creating a boiling cauldron.”
The statement emphasised that no regular Russian troops were involved in “the storming” of Soledar, just Wagner fighters.
Ms Maliar had earlier stated, “the adversary does not pay attention to the significant casualties of its men and continues to vigorously storm.”
“The paths leading up to our strongholds are littered with the corpses of our enemies. Our defenders are holding their ground valiantly, “And then she went and said something.
As a minor salt-mining town in the Donetsk region, the loss of Soledar could aid Russian troops in encircling the larger and more strategically important city of Bakhmut.
The United Kingdom reported earlier on Tuesday that Russian troops and the mercenary Wagner Group were “possibly” in possession of the town at this time.
There is “virtually no life” and “no full walls left,” as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky put it on Monday.
Adding, “This is what lunacy looks like,” he said.
Mr. Zelensky also lauded the tenacity of the Ukrainian armed forces in a later address on Tuesday.
Even if its strategic value is questioned, capturing Soledar would be a big deal for two reasons.
For starters, it would facilitate Russian advancement into the provincial capital of Bakhmut. The vast, city-like network of salt mine tunnels near Soledar that have been inactive since April could provide Russia with a way to infiltrate territory held by Ukraine.
Second, the invaders would have the opportunity to show Ukraine what it’s like to be on the receiving end of its own aggression.
Kyiv’s success in retaking territory is due in part to the Ukrainian government’s ability to cut off Russian supplies.
Many invasions have been halted in their tracks by long-range missile strikes, rendering thousands of invading troops unable to freely move military hardware or resupply on food, gasoline, or supplies.
If Bakhmut’s supply lines from nearby Sloviansk were severed, the city of Soledar, which had a population of about 10,000 before the conflict, would be a key target.
Russia is “unlikely” to take Bakhmut immediately because to Ukraine’s “solid defence lines,” but the UK stated it felt Soledar was close to surrendering to Russia.
According to a high-ranking US Department of Defense military officer, Russia currently controls a “substantial section” of the strategic island of Soledar.
Fights have been going on for months around Bakhmut, and the most recent skirmishes have been described as “savage” by a US officer.
Two missing Britons were last seen on their way to Soledar.