Ukrainian military denies that Russian forces occupied Soledar Ukraine

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The Ukrainian military has denied that Russian forces have encircled and captured the eastern town of Soledar, after Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, claimed the city had fallen.

Spokesman of the Eastern Group of Ukrainian Armed Forces Serhiy Cherevatyy said: “The Russians say it is under their control, which is not true.

A Russian seizure of Soledar and its vast salt mines would have symbolic, military and commercial value for Russia. But the situation in and around Soledar appeared to be uneventful, and none of the claims could be independently verified.

Prigogine published a photograph of him with a group of soldiers and a tank in one of the tunnels of a salt mine southwest of the city.

Prigozhin also said that only units of his paramilitary company took part in the battle for the city – most of them convicts, who were pardoned if they fought for him.

Footage released at 10 a.m. Wednesday by Soledar, a Ukrainian soldier in the drone unit identified by the call sign Maigar, shows heavy fighting continuing but Ukrainian forces still holding positions in the city.

“That’s the sound of Soledar,” he said over the background noise of constant artillery fire. “There are occasional local battles and artillery on both sides,” he added.

Reports from Ukrainian fighters fighting on this part of the front suggest that Russia moved Wagner fighters from Bakhmut to focus solely on the battle for Soledar.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said, “Tough battles are being fought to save Soledar.”

“The enemy continues its active attack, not paying attention to the heavy loss of personnel. The bodies of dead enemy soldiers who approached our positions were simply stuffed.

However, in the morning summary of the Ukrainian army, only one mention of Soledar was made, and the city was listed as one of many bombed areas in the Donetsk region.

A Ukrainian soldier who posted videos from the Bakhmut region described the fighting in Soledar, the disputed buildings changing hands several times inside the city, and the soldiers freezing in the cold.

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Russian forces recently stepped up efforts to capture Soledar as part of their bid to capture the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut and Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, which has seen fierce fighting in sub-zero temperatures for the past five days.

Prigozhin announced on Tuesday evening that he had surrounded the Ukrainian troops in the central “cauldron” and captured the entire city.

“Wagner’s units occupied the entire territory of Soledar. A cauldron has appeared in the center of the city, where a city battle is taking place. The number of prisoners will be known tomorrow,” he added without giving further details.

Western military experts geolocate Wagner’s units in the center of the city, where the battle for the main administration building is ongoing, while the Russians claim that Ukraine has recently captured the southwest of the city, where it has set up defenses near salt mines. , seemed more controversial.

The British Ministry of Defense said Russian troops and Wagner fighters had taken control of most of Soledar after a four-day advance.

But Prigozhin’s comment that fighting continued in the center of Soledar suggests that Russian control was not complete, despite Wagner’s claim that the entire city was under Wagner’s control.

On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi and the military command did not discuss Soledar’s surveillance. He reiterated calls for a Western arms build-up and said Russia was gathering forces to bolster the campaign, but did not give details.

“Despite massive losses, Russia is still trying to capture Soledar, home to Europe’s largest salt mine,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted late Tuesday.

Ukraine earlier said its forces were still holding positions in Soledar, repelling a wave of attacks by Russian forces seeking their first battlefield victory in months.

Some prominent Russian military bloggers have called for caution on the situation in Soledar, saying that heavy fighting in the center and its outskirts continued throughout the night.

The Institute of War Studies was also cautious about the Russian claims, anticipating earlier announcements that the city had been captured, noting that its fall would be of limited value in the fight for Bakhmut.

“Even with the most generous Russian demands,” the think tank said in an update Tuesday evening, “the capture of Soledar does not mean an immediate siege of Bakhmut.” Control of Soledar does not necessarily allow Russian forces to control Ukraine’s vital land lines of communication to Bakhmut.

The capture of Soledar would be Russia’s most significant success since August, following humiliating retreats in the second half of 2022. Russian forces have been fighting for months to capture Bakhmut.

But in the heaviest fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine 11 months ago, troops on both sides were suffering heavy casualties, and any victory would come at a heavy cost.

The Kyiv government has released photos showing dozens of Russian soldiers killed in mudflats in recent days.

Reuters contributed to this report

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