Hundreds of civilians stranded in Soledar amid fierce fighting, Ukraine says | Ukraine

Hundreds of civilians remain stranded in Soledar, Ukraine said as bloody fighting continues for control of the largely destroyed salt mining town in eastern Ukraine.

Pavlo Kirilenko, the governor of Donetsk, told Ukrainian state television that 559 civilians remained in Soledar, including 15 children, and could not be evacuated.

Ukraine said on Thursday that its troops were “holding down” as fighting continued in Soledar, rejecting claims by Russian mercenary group Wagner that its forces had taken control of the town.

Hundreds of civilians stranded in Soledar, Ukraine says as fierce fighting continues – video report

“The fighting in the direction of Soledar is fierce. [The Russians] are walking on their own corpses,” said Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.

“Russia is slaughtering its own people by the thousands, but we are holding back.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, said on Wednesday that his troops had captured Soledar after intense fighting and that the town was “strewn with Ukrainian servicemen”.

But the Kremlin has so far refused to declare victory in Soledar.

Drone footage shows Ukrainian medical evacuation from Soledar – video

Asked about Prigozhin’s claims of victory, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “Let’s not rush, let’s wait for official statements. There is a positive dynamic underway.”

Taking Soledar would mark Moscow’s first significant gain in half a year.

In its daily military briefing on Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry did not mention the developments around Soledar.

Russian forces have recently focused their efforts on capturing Soledar as part of their ambition to capture the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut and Ukraine’s larger eastern Donbas region, which has seen fierce fighting in sub-zero temperatures for the past five days.

Drone footage released by Ukraine this week revealed some of the destruction inflicted on Soledar after months of fighting, with bomb craters marking the landscape.

The before and after photos give a sense of the destruction:

Aerial view of southern Soledar
Aerial view of southern Soledar

Aerial view of schools and other buildings in Soledar
Aerial view of schools and other buildings in Soledar

Aerial view of Ukrainian trenches in the fields around the city.
Aerial view of Ukrainian trenches in the fields around the city

Elsewhere, Ukrainian Brigadier General Oleksiy Khromov said Russia was preparing a new offensive aimed at seizing Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions.

“It is expected that in the near future the enemy will try to reach the administrative borders of the Donetsk region and may intensify its actions to capture the left-bank part of the Zaporozhye region,” Khromov said.

Ukraine has been warning for weeks that Russia is preparing for a major offensive, claiming that Moscow was ready to order the mobilization up to 500,000 recruits in January.

Also on Thursday, a Russian delegation led by Russian Ground Forces Commander Oleg Salyukov visited Belarus to review the combat readiness of joint forces deployed there.

Russia and Belarus recently expanded their joint military exercises in Belarus as concerns grow that Moscow is pressuring its closest ally to join the war.

Sergei Naev, commander of Ukraine’s joint forces, said on Thursday that “the situation in Belarus … does not pose an immediate threat.”

The trip came the day after the major a shake-up in Moscow’s military leadership in which Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff, was appointed as the country’s commander-in-chief for the war in Ukraine.

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