Putin congratulates Russia troops, Wagner for ‘capturing Bakhmut’

Russia has claimed to have fully captured Ukraine’s Bakhmut, with President Vladimir Putin congratulating his troops and the mercenary Wagner Group for taking the largely levelled eastern city.

The Russian announcement on Saturday came hours after Kyiv said the battle was still continuing while admitting the situation was “critical”.Bakhmut, a salt-mining town that once had a population of 70,000 people, has been the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle in Russia’s 15-month war in Ukraine.

The fall of Bakhmut, where both Russia and Ukraine are believed to have suffered huge losses, would represent Moscow’s first big victory in the conflict in more than 10 months.

“As a result of offensive actions of the Wagner assault units, with the support of artillery and aviation of the ‘Southern’ unit, the liberation of the city of Artemovsk was completed,” Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement, using the Soviet-era name of Bakhmut.

“Vladimir Putin congratulated the assault units of Wagner as well as all servicemen of units of the Russian armed forces who provided them with the necessary support and flank cover, on the completion of the operation to liberate” the city, the TASS state news agency quoted a Kremlin statement as saying.“Today on May 20, around midday, Bakhmut was taken in its entirety,” Prigozhin said in the video, adding that Wagner fighters would search the captured 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,” Prigozhin said. “We ourselves will go into field camps.”

Artillery sound could be heard in the background of Prigozhin’s video.‘Bakhmut will be liberated’
The claims came after a week in which Ukrainian forces have made their most rapid gains for six months on Bakhmut’s northern and southern flanks.

Kyiv had denied Prigozhin’s claim earlier on Saturday but did not have an immediate response to the defence ministry’s statement.

“Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar posted on Telegram.

She said Ukrainian troops were “holding the defence” in the city’s “Airplane area”.

“As of now, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area,” she said.

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