The head of Russian paramilitary group Wagner announced on Saturday that his fighters were close to the administrative centre of Bakhmut, while a top Ukrainian commander insisted on “buying time” ahead of an upcoming counteroffensive. Military experts have questioned the sense of the continued fight for Bakhmut, but Ukrainian officials argue that the town’s fall could lead to further Russian advances in the east.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of Russian mercenary group Wagner, said that his forces were close to the centre of Bakhmut in a video released on Saturday.
Prigozhin said the most important thing was to receive more ammunition from the army and “move forward.” Wagner has been leading offensives against cities in eastern Ukraine, including Bakhmut. Both sides have suffered heavy losses.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, stated that the fight for Bakhmut helped win time in preparation for a future counteroffensive, which is not far off. The military said that Syrsky was at “the most important area” of the frontline but did not provide further details.
British military intelligence said that the Bakhmutka River in the centre of Bakhmut now marked the front line. Ukrainian forces hold the west of the town and have demolished key bridges over the river, making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.
Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has been entangled in a power struggle with the defence ministry. He has several times claimed battlefield victories ahead of Russia’s army, criticised Russia’s top brass and accused the military of not sharing ammunition with his forces.
On Saturday, he said he was ready to ask Russia’s top commanders for forgiveness but appeared to mock Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
The Russian army kept shelling the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, killing three people and wounding another two, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday.
Despite Russia’s retreat from the city of Kherson late last year, it has been regularly pounded by Moscow’s troops. Donetsk’s separatist mayor Alexei Kulemzin said on Saturday that as a result of Ukrainian shelling, two people, including a young boy, were killed.