The Ukrainian army claims to be carrying out counter-attacks in the devastated city of Bakhmout, whose President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied the capture claimed by Russia. The leader of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Evgueni Prigojine, whose men are on the front line in the fighting, then the Russian Ministry of Defense assured on Saturday that it had “completely liberated” Bakhmout, a mining town in eastern Ukraine and epicenter of the longest and deadliest battle in the war that began in February 2022.

But Volodymyr Zelensky, who was in Japan for a G7 summit, during which he garnered diplomatic support and military aid, assured Sunday that the city “is not occupied” by Russian troops, after a series of ambiguous statements about the situation on the ground. “There’s nothing in this place […] just ruins and a lot of dead Russians,” he said, seeming to suggest that Bakhmut would just be a Pyrrhic victory for the Russians. He compared the destruction there to that caused by the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

Ukrainian ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrsky said his troops now controlled only an “insignificant” part of Bakhmout, while “continuing to advance” on the northern and southern flanks of the city. According to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar, Kiev forces have “partially surrounded” Bakhmout thanks to their recent breakthrough on these flanks held by Russian regular troops, which she says makes it “very difficult” to maintain a presence. Russian in the city. She again asserted that the Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut itself still control “certain industrial facilities and infrastructure”.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian army on the eastern front, Sergiy Tcherevatyj, said Sunday evening that his troops were carrying out counterattacks in Bakhmout and the surrounding area. Russian forces are “trying to take over the whole city. Our units are defending several buildings and a number of fortifications in the southwestern part” of Bakhmout, he told state television.

Violent clashes took place in other towns and villages in the east, including Mariinka and Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, according to a statement from the Ukrainian General Staff, which indicates that the Russians carried out four strikes of missiles and 45 airstrikes on Sunday. “Bakhmut and Mariinka remain the epicenter of hostilities,” the statement said. The battle for the city of Bakhmout continues. »

Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigojine claimed responsibility for capturing Bakhmout on Saturday, saying he would hand over control of the city to regular Russian troops on May 25. Mr Prigozhin insisted on Sunday that the city had been taken “every inch” within its “legal borders”. “There is not a single Ukrainian soldier in Bakhmout,” he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Wagner’s men and the Russian army on Saturday for “the completion of the operation (which made it possible to) liberate” Bakhmout and promised to decorate the soldiers who distinguished themselves in this battle.

If confirmed, the capture of Bakhmout would allow Russia to post victory after a series of humiliating reverses. It would also intervene before a major counter-offensive that kyiv says it has been preparing for months, with Western arms deliveries. However, Volodymyr Zelensky admitted this week that Ukraine needed “more time” to implement this counter-offensive aimed at retaking the territories it occupied from the Russians.

After a series of talks with the leaders of the G7 countries, including United States President Joe Biden, he obtained the American promise of new deliveries of ammunition, artillery and armored vehicles, s’ adding to Washington’s green light on Friday to supply the F-16 fighter jets it has long craved. Moscow and Kyiv suffered heavy casualties in Bakhmout, a city of some 70,000 before the Russian offensive, now largely destroyed by fighting.

This battle was also the scene of an open conflict between Yevgeny Prigojine and the Russian general staff, towards which the boss of Wagner multiplied the insults, accusing him of not providing his men on purpose with enough ammunition to weaken them. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry reported on Sunday that it had evacuated ten civilians from Bakhmout. The number of inhabitants remaining in the devastated city is unknown, but probably very low. “The rescue operation was difficult on the road in the middle of the mines and under the fire of the occupants,” he said. “If hell exists, it’s in Bakhmout,” said one of the evacuated residents, quoted by the Ukrainian ministry.

Consult our file: War in Ukraine