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The Ukrainian military and Russia’s mercenary Wagner forces have reported further Russian retreats around the city of Bakhmut, as Kyiv pressed on with its biggest advance in the city for months in advance of a long-awaited counteroffensive.

Ukraine said it had repelled a day of Russian attacks in and around the ruined eastern city on Thursday and made gains of up to 1km (almost 3,300 feet) in some places.The head of the Wagner Group, which is spearheading the Russian attack on Bakhmut, said his forces had also advanced up to 400 metres (more than 1,300 feet) in parts of the city.

“We’re pushing Bakhmut all the way to the end,” Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio recording on his Telegram channel.

Prigozhin has said Wagner fighters are on the cusp of pushing Ukrainian troops out of their last foothold in the built-up area on the city’s western outskirts. But he also accused Russia’s regular forces of abandoning ground north and south of the city, raising the risk of Russian troops inside being encircled.

“Unfortunately, units of the Russian defence ministry have withdrawn up to 570 metres (1,880 feet) to the north of Bakhmut, exposing our flanks,” Prigozhin said in his latest voice message on Thursday.

“I am appealing to the top leadership of the Ministry of Defence – publicly – because my letters are not being read,” Prigozhin said, addressing Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.“Please do not give up the flanks,” he said.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar, reporting on the advances in Bakhmut, said Ukrainian forces were meeting their “military objectives”.

“As of now, we control the southwestern part of Bakhmut,” she said.Russia attacked Bakhmut all day on Thursday having “significantly strengthened” its forces in the city by bringing in most of its reserves, but all “attacks were repelled”, she said.

The Russian defence ministry has acknowledged some withdrawals from positions near Bakhmut over the past week but denies Prigozhin’s assertions that flanks are crumbling, or that it has withheld ammunition from Wagner.

Ukrainian forces have seized the “tactical initiative and made tactically significant gains around Bakhmut in counter-attack operations” on Thursday, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest briefing on the conflict.

“The limited nature of Wagner’s offensive operations in Bakhmut compared to the localized Ukrainian counterattacks underscores the loss of Russian initiative in the area,” the Washington, DC-based think tank said.

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