Putin claims Bahmut captured as Ukraine insists battle is not over
Vladimir Putin has hailed his first major victory since the early days of his invasion of Ukraine, saying Russian forces have captured the eastern town of Bakhmut despite Kiev insisting the battle is “not over yet”.
The Russian president said the Wagner paramilitary group, with the help of Russian armed forces, captured the Ukrainian city after a bloody months-long battle that claimed more than 100,000 lives and left the city in ruins.
“All those who have distinguished themselves will be awarded state awards,” the Kremlin said in a statement issued on Sunday night.
The Battle of Bakhmut was the longest and bloodiest battle in Ukraine since Putin launched his full-scale invasion in February 2022. Fierce fighting broke out there in May last year, but intensified in autumn and winter.
It was not immediately clear whether Russia had taken the entire city. The Ukrainian military said fighting continued on the western edge of Bakhmut, while Kiev’s counterattacks continued on the northern and southern flanks of Russian forces, where they gained about 10 square miles of territory in the past week.
At the G7 summit in Japan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky disputed Russia’s claim that it had captured the entire city, but suggested any victory would be Pyrrhic.
“You have to understand, there is nothing. They destroyed everything. There are no buildings,” Zelensky said. “It’s a pity, it’s a tragedy, but today Bakhmut is only in our hearts [ . . . ] There is only land and many dead Russians. But they came to us.”
The siege was led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, warlord-turned-host and founder of Wagner, who has been embroiled in bitter public opinion for most of this year because of his supply to the Russian general staff. On Saturday, he said his group had captured Bahmut without significant support from regular armed forces.
Prigozhin recorded his video in front of the Bahmut train station, more than two miles from the city’s western front, which he claimed to have captured. Artillery fire could still be heard nearby.
The Ukrainian military has denied that Russia has taken control of the city. “Over the past 24 hours, the enemy has carried out unsuccessful attacks,” the Ukrainian military said on Sunday. “The battle for the city of Bahmut is not over yet.”
Serhii Cherevaty, a military spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Command, told the Financial Times by telephone on Saturday that although Russian forces control most of Bakhmut, there is still heavy fighting on Tchaikovsky Street leading into the city, as well as some blocks. along its western and northwestern edge.
Wagner did not assert full control over Bakhmut, he insisted, despite Prigozhin’s claims. Tserevatyi argued that during the battle “the Ukrainian army broke Wagner”.