Russia said that its forces had taken full control of the hotly contested city of Bakhmut, also known as Artyomovsk, while the Ukrainian side said the situation there was “critical”.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner private military group, said in a video message posted on his Telegram channel that Wagner will begin to withdraw its units on May 25 for rest and retraining, and its fighters will create “the necessary lines of defence,” Xinhua news agency reported.
“As a result of the offensive actions of the Wagner assault detachments, with the support of artillery and aviation of the Southern Group of Forces, the liberation of the city of Artyomovsk was completed in the Artyomovsk tactical direction,” said the Russian Defence Ministry, confirming the capture in a statement later on Saturday.
“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin congratulates the Wagner assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces units, who provided them with the necessary support and flank protection, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artyomovsk,” the presidential press service said.
“All those who distinguished themselves will be presented for state awards,” the Kremlin added.
On the same day, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote in a Telegram post that heavy fighting was underway in Bakhmut, noting “our troops maintain defense in the ‘Litak’ area.”
The Ukrainian military forces were controlling certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area and the private sector, Malyar said.
Bakhmut, an important transport hub located some 66 km north of the city of Donetsk, has been the center of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine for months.