Even as it loses ground in Ukraine’s southern Kherson and northeastern Luhansk regions, Russian forces have been making slow but steady progress into their assault on the eastern city of Bakhmut, aided in large measure by Wagner mercenaries, or private military contractors.
Bakhmut, located in the Donetsk region, is Ukrainian controlled, but has been bombarded by Russian artillery for months. If Russian forces were able to capture the city, it would enable them to further bombard the populations centers of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Russian forces were pushed further away from those cities when Ukraine recaptured Lyman and much of Kharkiv region last month.
“Wagner are carrying on with their advances on the eastern side of Bakhmut,” Semyon Pegov, a pro-Russian analyst who posts under the name WarGonzo, said on Telegram on Friday. “According to some reports the AFU [Armed Forces of Ukraine] units are leaving the area in small groups under the threat of being surrounded. If it is really so we will find out shortly.”
CNN cannot independently verify the claim that Ukraine was withdrawing forces from Bakhmut, and Ukrainian officials have not commented on it. Andrey Marochko, an official in the Russian-back Luhansk People’s Republic, also repeated that claim, as did TASS, the Russian state news agency.
Pegov said that in the past week, Wagner mercenaries were able to capture the towns of Zajtseve and Vesela Dolyna to the southeast of Bakhmut. The UK Ministry of Defense on Friday said that they may also now be contesting the villages of Opytne and Ivanhrad, to the south of Bakhmut.
CNN cannot independently verify those claims, but they would mean that Russia is forming a more complete semi-circle around Bakhmut.
“The Wagner troops pushed the AFU from important road junction to the North-East of Bakhmut,” Pegov said on Wednesday.
Ukrainian officials agree that Bakhmut is being fiercely contested:
- Bakhmut had been struck by two air strikes, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the regional military administration in Donetsk, on Wednesday. Bakhmut is located in his region.
- The “most intense situation” was to be found in Bakhmut, and the Ukrainian military had repelled “more than 30 attacks,” said Serhii Hayday, head of the neighboring Luhansk region, on Sunday. Hayday has spent significant time in Bakhmut.
Post includes additional translation by Racz.