The city in eastern Ukraine, known for its salt mines, has been the center of days of fierce fighting.
The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner claims to have secured control of the Soledar town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, but uncertainty remains amid ongoing fighting in the city center.
Soledar has been the focus of days of intense fighting as Russia sees it as key to its campaign for the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut and Ukraine’s larger eastern Donbas region.
It was not possible to verify the conditions on the ground and Ukrainian officials have not commented on the situation.
“Wagner’s troops took control of all of Soledar territory. “A cauldron has formed in the center of the city, in which urban battles are taking place,” Russian news agencies reported. Wagner’s head, Yevgeny Prigozhina close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he said late Tuesday.
“The number of prisoners will be announced tomorrow,” Prigozhin added. The surrounded Ukrainian soldiers have been given an ultimatum to surrender by midnight (22:00 GMT), the group said on Telegram.
Soledar is about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Bakhmut, and its capture would have symbolic, military and commercial value for Russia.
Russia’s state news agency RIA later issued a report saying the Wagner Group had taken over the Soledar salt mines after “fierce fighting”, while Prigozhin shared a photo of himself surrounded by his mercenaries in what he said was one of the mines .
Still, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, expressed caution about the Russian claims.
“Russian forces have not captured all of #Soledar despite false Russian claims that the city has fallen and that #Bakhmut risks imminent encirclement,” said a Twitter thread, noting that Prigozhin himself admitted the city’s war was ongoing .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not mention control of Soledar in his regular video address Tuesday night, when he repeated his call for more Western weapons, saying Russia wants to step up its military campaign. He did not provide details.
But Ukraine’s defense ministry tweeted late Tuesday, “Even after suffering colossal losses, Russia is still frantically trying to capture Soledar, home of Europe’s largest salt mine.”
Ukraine said earlier that its forces were still holding positions in Soledar, resisting wave after wave of attacks by Russian forces seeking their first battlefield victory in months.
The capture of Soledar would be Russia’s most substantial gain since August, after a series of humiliating retreats in the northeast and south in the second half of 2022.
But any victory in Bakhmut will come at a huge cost, with troops on both sides suffering heavy losses in some of the most intense fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year.
In recent days, Kyiv has released photos showing what it says are scores of Russian soldiers strewn dead in muddy fields.
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut will be a crucial step towards taking full control of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, one of four provinces it claims to own annexed two months ago.
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