Russia pushes to capture Ukraine’s Soledar amid fierce fighting

  • Zelensky says that there are no walls left in Soledar
  • Britain claims Russian forces may control most of the city
  • Group Wagner sending waves of fighters, Ukraine says
  • Fight for cave tunnels for salt mining under the city

KYIV/SIVERSK, Ukraine, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Russian troops have stepped up an assault on the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, forcing Ukrainian troops to repel waves of mercenary-led attacks, officials in Kyiv said.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that Russian forces and those of the Wagner Group are likely now in control of most of the small mining town after advances over the past four days.

Soledar, in the industrial Donbass region, is a few miles from Bakhmut, where troops from both sides are suffering heavy losses in some of the most intense trench warfare since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 11 months ago.

“The Russian Soledar axis is very likely an attempt to cover Bakhmut from the north and disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication,” Britain said in intelligence.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his overnight video address on Monday that Bakhmut and Soledar were holding up despite the widespread destruction.

He cited new and more ferocious attacks in Soledar, where he said no strong walls remained and the ground was covered with Russian corpses.

“Thanks to the endurance of our soldiers in Soledar, we have gained for Ukraine additional time and additional strength,” Zelensky said. He did not explain what he meant by gaining time or power.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not mention either Soledar or Bakhmut at a media briefing on Monday.

Wagner was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Drawing some recruits from Russian prisons and known for being uncompromising violenceis active in conflicts in Africa and took a prominent role in Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine.

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Prigozhin has been trying for months to capture Bakhmut and Soledar at the cost of many casualties on both sides.

He said on Saturday its meaning it lay in a network of cavernous mine tunnels underground that could hold troops or tanks.

An American official said that Prigogine was looking at the salt and plaster of the mines, which are believed to extend over 100 miles underground and contain caverns the size of an auditorium.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleg Zhdanov said the fighting in Bakhmut and Soledar was “the most intense on the entire front line”.

“So many remain on the battlefield … either dead or wounded,” he said on YouTube.

“They attack our positions in waves, but the wounded as a rule die where they lie, either from exposure, for it is very cold, or from loss of blood. No one comes to help them or to collect the dead from the battlefield.”

Reuters could not immediately verify reports from the battlefield.

At an evacuation center in nearby Kramatorsk, Olha, 60, said she fled Soledar after moving from apartment to apartment as each was destroyed in tank battles.

“Not a single house was left untouched. Apartments were burning, breaking in half,” said Olha, who gave only her first name.


Ukrainian officials, led by commander-in-chief General Valery Zaluzhny, have warned that Russia is preparing new troops for a new offensive against Ukraine, possibly against the capital, Kyiv.

Zelensky also appears to be betting on the provision of more, sophisticated weaponry from Ukraine’s Western partners to repel attacks and eventually drive out Russian troops.

On Monday, he continued his diplomatic efforts, speaking with Petr Fiala, the prime minister of the Czech Republic.

“I am sure that our soldiers at the front will receive this weapon and equipment. Very soon,” he said.

France, Germany and the United States all staked last week to send armored fighting vehicles, fulfilling a long-standing Ukrainian request. Britain is considering supplying Ukraine with tanks for the first time, Sky News reported, citing a Western source. The British Ministry of Defense did not comment.

Reports from Reuters bureaus; Written by Michael Perry and Alex Richardson; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Angus McSwan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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