Of Bakhmout, “there is nothing left”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed this on Sunday, at the G7 in Hiroshima, the small town of 70,000 inhabitants is nothing more than a field of ruins. But in whose hands? For two days, the Wagner militia and Vladimir Putin claim the capture of the city, epicenter of the fighting in the east of the country, facing kyiv, which denies any capture. While confusion reigns around this battlefield, a look back at the latest statements from both sides.
Wagner announces on Saturday the complete capture of Bakhmout
“On May 20, 2023, today, at noon, Bakhmout was taken in its entirety”. The head of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Evgueni Prigojine, proclaimed on Saturday the total capture of the city, attributing all the merits of the victory to his militia. “The operation to take Bakhmout lasted 224 days (…) There was only Wagner here,” he said. That is, no regular troops of the Russian army.
In open conflict with the military hierarchy in Moscow, the leader of the private militia indicated that Wagner would withdraw his men from the city from May 25 and leave its defense to the regular Russian army. In ping, he once again accused the Russian soldiers of fleeing their positions near Bakhmout, while affirming that the general staff did not provide enough ammunition to his men on purpose to weaken his group.
kyiv denies capture, despite “critical situation”
Ukraine did not wait long to react. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar ured Saturday that Ukrainian soldiers still controlled “certain industrial facilities and infrastructure”. And this, although their situation on the ground remains “critical”.
The same day, the adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, maintained the vagueness, affirming on television that “Bakhmout will be [it] liberated, like all the other territories of Ukraine”.
The Kremlin welcomes the capture of Bakhmout
A few hours later, the Kremlin formalizes the victory, celebrating the total capture of the city, the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since the start of the war. “Following the offensive actions of Wagner’s ault units, with the support of unit artillery and aviation Souththe liberation of the city of Artemovsk is complete,” the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday evening, using the Soviet name of Bakhmout.
Vladimir Putin wished to congratulate the Wagner militia and the army in the evening for “the completion of the operation (which made it possible to) liberate Artemovsk”, according to a press release from the Kremlin.
The city is not “occupied”, ures Zelensky
Did the city really fall into Russian hands? Questioned this Sunday, President Zelensky initially seemed not to deny the Russian claims, before clarifying his position. “Today they [les soldats russes] are in the city,” he acknowledged, on the sidelines of the G7 in Japan. Before adding firmly: “Bakhmout is not occupied by Russia today”.
However, the situation remains complicated on the ground, as he seemed to admit: “I cannot share with you the tactical opinions of our soldiers. The most difficult thing would be for there to be a tactical error in Bakhmout and for our men to be surrounded”.
The Ukrainian president also returned to the state of ruins in which the city now finds itself. “I can honestly say that the photos of destroyed Hiroshima remind me of Bakhmout. There is absolutely nothing alive, all the buildings are destroyed (…) absolute and total destruction,” he lamented.
What part of the city still remains in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers? As a reminder, before the Russian claim, Bakhmout had already been over 90% conquered by Russian forces in recent months. Now Kiev controls an “insignificant” part of this city, but “continues to advance on the flanks in the suburbs”, defended, for his part, the commander of the Ukrainian forces, Oleksandre Syrsky.
The city is taken “to the last centimeter”, insists Wagner
This Sunday, finally, the boss of the Russian group Wagner, Evgueni Prigojine, once again ured that the city had been taken “to the last centimeter” within its “legal borders”.
“There is not a single Ukrainian soldier in Bakhmout,” he repeated, throwing even more trouble over the fate of the destroyed city.