Thursday, 1 Jun 2023

Volodymyr Zelensky denies Russia has captured eastern city of Bakhmut

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Vladimir Putin has congratulated his soldiers and the paramilitary Wagner Group for seizing the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Taking the largely levelled city would mark an end to the longest and bloodiest battle of the 15-month war, and Russia has falsely declared victory there several times in the last few months.

But Volodymyr Zelensky denied the claims, stressing that Ukrainian troops remain in the city.

Answering questions from journalists at the G7 summit in Japan, he said: ‘We are fighting thanks to the courage of our people, our warriors.

‘I clearly understand what has taken place in Bakhmut. I cannot share with you the tactical views of our military. Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia Federation as of today.

‘There are no two or three interpretations of those words.’

Avoiding a question about when Ukraine’s spring counteroffensive would begin, he stressed Russia ‘will feel when we have a counteroffensive’.

Earlier today, Ukrainian officials had also said fighting for the regional transport and logistics hub in the Donetsk Oblast is still ongoing.

Reports that the Ukrainian president confirmed that his army has lost control were misinterpreted. 

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Speaking alongside US president Joe Biden in Hiroshima, he was asked if Bakhmut is still in Ukraine’s hands.

He then replied ‘I think no’ in answer to a journalist, who stated ‘the Russians say they have taken Bakhmut’.

‘You have to understand that there is nothing,’ the leader added. ‘They [Russians] destroyed everything.

‘For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts. There is nothing in this place.’

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In a Facebook post, his spokesperson Sergii Nykyforov clarified the response: ‘As for the answers of the president of Ukraine to the questions about Bakhmut.

‘Reporter’s question: “Russians said they have taken Bakhmut.” President’s reply: “I think no.” Thus the president denied taking Bakhmut.”

Russia’s defence ministry had said early on Sunday that Wagner forces, with the support of Russian troops, had captured the city.

It came about eight hours after a similar claim by leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who shared a video on his Telegram channel in which his fighters waved Russian flags against a backdrop of ruins.

‘Today on May 20, around midday, Bakhmut was taken in its entirety,’ he said in the video, adding that Wagner fighters would search the city before handing it over to the Russian army.

‘By May 25 we will completely examine [Bakhmut], create the necessary lines of defence and hand it to the military.’

The claims come after a week in which Ukrainian forces have made their most rapid gains for six months on the northern and southern flanks ahead of a long-anticipated counteroffensive.

Whether they have left the city or not, troops have been slowly pulling back inside it, to clusters of buildings on the western edge.

Meanwhile, to the north and south, they have seized large areas from the Russian army.

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