Ukraine strengthens its defenses in the east as Russia sends waves of attacks

  • Kyiv defines the situation in Soledar as difficult
  • There are no visible signs of casualties in the barracks, which Russia says has been hit
  • Zelensky says Russia is attacking despite the ceasefire

KYIV/KRAMATORSK, Ukraine, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Ukraine is strengthening its forces in the eastern Donbass region and repelling persistent attacks on Bakhmut and other towns there by the Russian Wagner mercenary group, Ukrainian authorities said on Monday.

Reinforcements have been sent to Soledar, a small town near Bakhmut where the situation is particularly difficult, they said.

“The enemy again made a desperate attempt to storm the city of Soledar from different directions and threw the most professional units of the Wagnerites into battle,” the Ukrainian army said in a statement.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an evening video address on Sunday that Bakhmut and Soledar were holding up despite widespread destruction after months of attacks.

“Our soldiers are repelling constant Russian offensive attempts,” he said. In Soledar, “things are very difficult”.

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.

“All last week we couldn’t go outside. Everyone was running around, soldiers with automatic weapons, shouting,” said Olha, who gave only her first name.

“No house was left intact,” she said. “Flats were burning, breaking in half.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the mercenary group Wagner, which is trying to take over Bakhmut and Soledar at the cost of many lives on both sides, said on Saturday its meaning lies in the web of mines there.

“It not only (has the ability to hold) a large group of people at a depth of 80-100 meters, but it can also move tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.”

Military analysts say the strategic military benefit to Moscow would be limited. A US official said Prigozhin, a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was looking at the salt and plaster from the mines there.

Serhiy Cherevaty, Ukraine’s military spokesman for the eastern region, said he believed it would be possible to stabilize the situation.

Brutal and bloody battles are taking place there – 106 shellings in one day,” he said on Ukrainian television.

“Our troops in Soledar have received additional forces and funds for this purpose, and everything is being done to improve the operational situation there.

Reuters was unable to independently verify reports from the battlefield.


Further north in the Kharkiv region, a Russian missile strike on a market in the village of Shevchenkove killed a 60-year-old woman and wounded several others, regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said.

Severely injured people lay on the ground as rescue teams sifted through piles of debris, overturned and burning stalls and a large crater in video footage from Ukraine’s police and presidential office. A policeman carried a girl with a bloody face from the scene.

The perpetrators are “ordinary terrorists”, Andriy Yermak, chief of staff of the Ukrainian president, wrote in Telegram.

Zelensky made a fresh denunciation of what he called Russia’s failure to respect the ceasefire, which was announced on the Russian Orthodox Christmas Friday and Saturday.

Ukraine never agreed to the ceasefire, which it called a Russian excuse to build up troops. Both sides accused the other of continuing hostilities throughout the period.

“The Russians shelled Kherson with incendiary munitions right after Christmas,” he said, referring to the southern city abandoned by Russian forces in November.

“Strikes on Kramatorsk and other cities in Donbass – on civilian targets and just as Moscow was reporting alleged ‘silence’ about its military.

On Sunday, Russia said a rocket attack on Kramatorsk, northwest of Bakhmut, killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers, but a Reuters reporter at the scene found no visible signs of the victims.

A Reuters team visited two student dormitories that Moscow said were temporary housing for Ukrainian personnel and that it had targeted in retaliation for the New Year attack that killed dozens of Russian soldiers and sparked outrage in Russia.

Neither bedroom appeared to have been directly hit or seriously damaged. There were no obvious signs that soldiers had lived there, no signs of bodies or traces of blood.

Serhiy Cherevaty, Ukraine’s military spokesman for the eastern region, described the claim of mass casualties as an attempt by the Russian Defense Ministry to show that it had responded with force to Ukraine’s recent strikes against Russian soldiers.

“This is an information operation of the Russian Ministry of Defense,” Cherevatiy told Suspilne News.

This was announced by the Kremlin on Monday it was confident her Ministry of Defense was correct when it said 600 Ukrainian servicemen were “destroyed” in the attack.

As Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine approaches a year old, the Russian military is under domestic pressure to make gains on the battlefield.

Hawkish voices seek an escalation of the war effort after setbacks such as the loss of captured territory and high rates of death and injury. Some pro-Kremlin military bloggers criticized the Russian Defense Ministry’s claims.

“Let’s talk about ‘deception,'” wrote one prominent pro-military military blogger on the messaging app Telegram, who posts under the name Military Informant and has more than half a million subscribers.

“It is not clear to us who and for what reason decided that 600 Ukrainian soldiers died inside, all at once, if the building was not actually hit (even the light remained on).

The armies of both Russia and Ukraine often exaggerate the enemy’s losses while minimizing their own.

Ukraine’s top military said about 760 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded last week in two attacks on Moscow-controlled parts of Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. These reports cannot be independently verified.

Reports from Reuters bureaus; Written by Lincoln Feast and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Lisa Shoemaker and Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graf

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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