Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy yesterday said that Russian forces were not occupying Bakhmut, casting doubt on Moscow’s insistence that the eastern Ukrainian city had fallen.
Responding to a reporter’s question about the status of the city at the G7 summit in Japan, Zelenskiy said that “Bakhmut is not occupied by the Russian Federation as of today.”
“We are not throwing people [away] to die,” Zelenskiy said in Ukrainian through an interpreter. “People are the treasure. I clearly understand what is happening in Bakhmut. I cannot share with you the technical details of what is happening with our warriors.”
The fog of war made it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground in the invasion’s longest battle, and a series of comments from Ukrainian and Russian officials added confusion to the matter.
Zelenskiy’s response in English to a question earlier at the summit about the status of Bakhmut suggested that he believed the city had fallen to Russian forces, and he offered solemn words about its fate.
When asked if the city was in Ukraine’s hands, Zelenskiy said: “I think no, but you have to — to understand that there is nothing, They’ve destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It’s a pity. It’s tragedy.”
“But, for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts. There is nothing on this place, so — just ground and — and a lot of dead Russians,” he said.
Zelenskiy’s press secretary later walked back those earlier comments.
Ukrainian defense and military officials said that fierce fighting was ongoing.
Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar went so far as to say that Ukrainian troops “took the city in a semi-encirclement.”
“The enemy failed to surround Bakhmut, and they lost part of the dominant heights around the city,” Malyar said. “That is, the advance of our troops in the suburbs along the flanks, which is still ongoing, greatly complicates the enemy’s presence in Bakhmut.”
The spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces, Serhii Cherevaty, said that the Ukrainian military is managing to hold positions in the vicinity of Bakhmut.
“The president correctly said that the city has, in fact, been razed to the ground. The enemy is being destroyed every day by massive artillery and aviation strikes, and our units report that the situation is extremely difficult,” he said.
“Our military keep fortifications and several premises in the southwestern part of the city. Heavy fighting is under way,” he said.
It was only the latest flip-flopping of the situation in Bakhmut after eight months of intense fighting.
Hours earlier, Russian state news agencies reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated “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,” which is Bakhmut’s Soviet-era name.
The Russian Ministry of Defense also said that Wagner and military units “completed the liberation” of Bakhmut.
In Japan, Zelenskiy stood with US President Joe Biden during a news conference, as Biden announced US$375 million more in aid for Ukraine, which included more ammunition, artillery and vehicles.
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