The head of the Wagner Group mercenary company, Yevgueni Prigozhin, announced on Thursday the beginning of the withdrawal of his units from the city of Bakhmut and the transfer of their positions to the troops of the Russian Army.
What is happening in the war in Ukraine: kyiv strikes back in Bakhmut and lowers expectations about its counteroffensive
“We withdrew very carefully,” Prigozhin said in a video posted on his Telegram channel. The leader of the mercenary group had announced that the transfer would take place between Thursday and June 1.
After months of intense fighting in a grueling and attritional battle, considered the longest of the war, Russia said this weekend that it has completed the capture of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, a city reduced to ruins that has acquired a deep symbolism for both sides during the invasion.
Since then, however, there has been some confusion: Ukraine, which has claimed some tactical gains on the city’s flanks in recent weeks, claimed the battle was not over.
Moscow has claimed a much-sought victory after a winter offensive that bore little fruit elsewhere and military setbacks elsewhere on the front last year, though experts say it brings limited strategic value to the war and is to see if it would give them a chance to launch more attacks westward, toward areas of the region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified ones. For kyiv, which has maintained a fierce and continuous defense, losing the city supposes, in addition to a territorial concession, a blow, mainly symbolic.
Led by the Wagner mercenary group, the Russian offensive managed to slowly advance on Bakhmut since the beginning of this year, cornering Ukrainian forces in the western part and capturing most of the town. The city is located in the northeast of the Donetsk region, which has been the focus of a fierce and costly battle since last summer that has inflicted heavy losses on both sides and has devastated the town, as shown by numerous images of burned-out and reduced buildings. to rubble.
Bakhmut is a relatively small city, where some 70,000 people lived before the war – in March, local authorities estimated that there were only about 4,000 inhabitants, at this time the leaders placed by Moscow speak of a “few tens of residents”–. Until now, however, it had remained out of reach of the Russian offensive for months in a battle that, in a decision that was controversial, has come to embody Kiev’s determined resistance, in a similar way to Mariupol, which it ended up falling into Russian hands in May 2022.
In all this time, Bakhmut has been the scene of trench warfare, constant artillery barrages and street fighting. Ukraine has accused Russia of using “scorched earth tactics” there with the aim of destroying the buildings that were left standing – and that served as hiding places and protection for urban resistance.