The head of the Wagner Group, which is fighting on Russia’s side, says his forces have surrounded most of the strategically important city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
They have been fighting fiercely with Ukrainian forces for the past few weeks over the capture of the city, which has resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, said there was only one way out of the city.
He called on President Zelensky to withdraw Ukrainian troops from Bakhmut.
The news agency Reuters says that in the video recorded on the roof of a house Mr. Prigozhin told President Zelensky to evacuate the Ukrainian soldiers to save their lives.
What is Kiev saying?
Ukraine’s military has admitted that its troops are under severe pressure in the town of Bakhmut.
They also hinted that Ukrainian troops may be withdrawn from there.
Earlier, additional troops were sent there to maintain control of the city.
Kiev says its troops are still fighting there. But they admitted their situation in Bakhmut had deteriorated this week.
Volodymyr Nazarenko, a deputy commander of the National Guard of Ukraine, told a Ukrainian TV channel that the situation in Bakhmut was “serious” and that there was “fighting all the time”.
He said, “They are not considering how many lives are being lost to them. They are now trying to capture this city. The job of our soldiers is to inflict as much damage as possible on the enemy.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner group, also said that Ukrainian troops had fought a bloody battle to keep Bakhmut under control.
It is known that both sides suffered heavy losses and many soldiers lost their lives in the war in this city.
It is said that if this city can be captured, it will be a major victory for Russia in the last six months of the war in Ukraine.
‘opening a way’
In the western part of the city, Reuters reporters saw Ukrainian soldiers digging new trenches for defense.
Reuters reports that the head of the Wagner group said that they have surrounded the nearly destroyed city of Bakhmut on all sides. Only one way is left open for the Ukrainian troops to leave.
The commander of one such Ukrainian drone unit that has been fighting in the city for the past few months told reporters that they had been ordered to leave.
He said he has been fighting there for 110 days. But he did not know why they were ordered to move.
Why is Bakhmut important?
The city of Bakhmut is located on a strategically important logistics route to Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
Taking control of this city would allow Russia to build a base for advancing the area to two larger cities, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
Experts say that if full control of the city of Bakhmut is established, it will be easier for Russia to occupy the entire Donbass region.
Russian mercenary Wagner Group is fighting to take over Bakhmut.
The founder of this group is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Putin. Many Russian prisoners were recruited as soldiers into this force, and they were known for their violent fighting. Apart from the war in Ukraine, they are involved in some conflicts in Africa.
“Units of the private military company Wagner have practically surrounded Bakhmut,” Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said, appearing in combat uniform in a video that Reuters determined was filmed on a rooftop in a village 7 km north of the centre of Bakhmut. “Only one route (out) is left,” he said. “The pincers are closing.”
He called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to order a retreat from Bakhmut to save his soldiers’ lives. The camera panned to show three captured Ukrainians – a grey-bearded older man and two boys – asking to be allowed to go home.
The commander of a Ukrainian drone unit active in Bakhmut, Robert Brovdi who goes by the name “Madyar”, said in a video posted on social media that his unit had been ordered by the military to withdraw immediately. He said he had been fighting there for 110 days.
Reuters was last able to reach the streets of Bakhmut on Monday, finding a few civilians and stray dogs wandering around while buildings were ablaze and the sound of explosions and gunfire was unceasing.
Both sides say they have inflicted devastating losses in Bakhmut. Kyiv has said its forces are still holding out there, while acknowledging that the situation has deteriorated this week.