The Wagner Group of Russia claims to have occupied Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine this week, but the Ukrainian government says it wants to retake the destroyed city after encircling it.
“We continue to advance on the flanks in the suburbs of Bakhmut and are actually approaching the capture of the city in a tactical encirclement,” overall ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said as Ukrainian forces added that they had recaptured 4sq km (1.5sq miles) of territory.
According to Ukraine, it used attritional street warfare in Bakhmut to entice Russian soldiers to the front and cause heavy fatalities. Its soldiers have also carried out a series of land reclaim flanking operations around the city over the last two weeks.
“Ukrainian counterattacks near Bakhmut have notably likely eliminated the threat of a Russian encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut and forced Russian troops to allocate scarce military resources to defend against a limited and localized offensive effort, as Ukrainian command likely intended,” the Washington-based Institute of the Study of War said on Friday.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, commander of the Wagner Group and its mercenary men, announced the seizure of Bakhmut the following day. Following this, the Russian Ministry of Defence said overnight that it had taken the city, vying for attention on the eastern front as it has been doing for months.
According to the online news source Meduza, Bakhmut was successfully taken. The “disputed” area consists only of “a dozen high-rise buildings, schools, a kindergarten and some garages at the end of Tchaikovsky Street”, it said.
However, according to Hanna Maliar, deputy minister of defence for Ukraine, the defenders were still in control of “industrial and infrastructure facilities” in the city’s southwest suburbs, often known as the “airplane neighbourhood” because of a nearby memorial to a MiG-17 fighter plane.
According to Maliar, Ukrainian soldiers were still present in the vicinity on Tuesday. Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesperson for the eastern troops, said the previous day that Ukrainian soldiers had advanced 200 to 400 metres (220 to 440 yards) to the north and south of the city and had engaged in flanking movements, showing that the conflict was far from done.