The head of Russia’s Wagner Group said Sunday that his forces raised a Russian flag over the city hall in Bakhmut, but the battle is still raging as Ukrainian forces still control some western districts in the Donbas city.
“From a legal point of view, Bakhmut has been taken. The enemy is concentrated in the western parts,” Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a message posted on Telegram, according to Al Jazeera.
Ukrainian military officials said Monday that the fight for Bakhmut continues. “The enemy continues its assault on the city of Bakhmut. However, our defenders courageously hold the city,” a military spokesman said, according to Reuters.
Denis Pushilin, the acting head of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said Monday that there’s no sign Ukrainian forces will withdraw from Bakhmut. “The enemy has not received a corresponding order yet. Accordingly, no escape or planned withdrawal of the Ukrainian regime’s troops from Artyomovsk (Bakhmut) is observed,” he said, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
Russian and Ukrainian forces have been locked in battle over Bakhmut since August 2022. Starting in January, Wagner mercenaries and regular Russian forces began making gains in the area and are now close to encircling the small city, which had a pre-war population of about 70,000.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to keep defending the city and continues to send troops into what has become known as the “meat grinder” in Bakhmut. Soldiers speaking to the media have said they’ve been thrown into the fight with little training, support, and ammunition.
Zelensky recently said if he loses Bakhmut, he will be pressured by Ukrainians and other countries to “compromise” with Russia in negotiations to reach a peace deal. The US wants Zelensky to launch a counteroffensive this spring, but it’s unclear if Ukrainian forces are capable of such an assault.