Bakhmut: Zelensky says city is destroyed as Russia claims victoryon May 21, 2023 at 9:38 am

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“It’s a pity, it’s a tragedy, but for today Bakhmut is only in our hearts,” Ukraine’s president says.

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says that Bakhmut is completely destroyed – but has denied that Russia has won the bloody battle for the city.

Asked on Sunday whether his forces had control of the eastern Ukrainian city, Mr Zelensky said: “It’s a pity, it’s a tragedy, but for today Bakhmut is only in our hearts.”

His office later clarified that he had not said that the city had fallen.

The Wagner Russian paramilitary claimed to have captured the city on Saturday.

In a video its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin – posing with some of his fighters – said that his forces had control of the entire city, although Ukraine’s government quickly denied that, while admitting the situation was “critical”.

On Sunday, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia had won the battle for Bakhmut, and that all troops who had excelled would get state awards.

But Ukraine’s deputy Defence Minister, Ganna Malyar, said later that Ukrainian forces still controlled part of the city and continued to advance along its flanks. They had partly encircled Bakhmut, making it “very difficult” for Russian troops, she said on social media.

Analysts say that Bakhmut is of little strategic value to Moscow, but its capture would be a symbolic victory for Russia after the longest battle of the war in Ukraine so far.

The two sides have fought over the city since August.

Western officials estimate between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in Bakhmut, while Ukraine’s military has also paid a heavy price.

Mr Zelensky was asked about Bakhmut at the meeting of G7 nations in Hiroshima, where he has joined key negotiations.

“You have to understand there is nothing. They destroyed everything,” he said, adding that there are “a lot of dead Russians”.

“Our defenders… they did strong work, and of course we appreciate them for their great job.”

Hardly a building remains standing in the city, and nearly its entire population has fled.

Ukraine’s hope is that the long-running battle has exhausted Russia’s army and supplies.

Mr Zelensky has previously called the city “a fortress” of Ukrainian morale.

Wagner forces have led the attack on the city, and Mr Prigozhin has frequently criticised the Russian defence ministry for not providing his fighters with adequate supplies.

In Saturday’s video, Mr Prigozhin said: “No-one can pedantically reproach us for the fact that at least some piece was not taken.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin flanked by Wagner fighters

Image source, Telegram

He said Wagner troops would pull out of the city later this month to rest and hand control to regular Russian troops.

Explosions could be heard in the background in the video, suggesting fighting continues close to the city, if not inside it.

He has claimed before that his forces had taken Bakhmut, or most of it, only for the battle to continue.

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