By Andrew Osborn
LONDON (Reuters) – Russian forces are moving forward in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut despite fierce resistance and have almost taken full control of a metals plant there, a Russian-installed leader in the region said.
His assertion ran counter to Ukrainian and Western descriptions of the situation in the city, which they have said is stabilising as a Russian offensive falters. Reuters has not been able to verify the battlefield situation.
The battle for Bakhmut, which Russia calls by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk, has for months been the grinding and bloody focal point of Moscow’s war on Ukraine, which it calls a “special military operation”.
Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed leader of the part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region under Moscow’s control, said the bulk of Ukrainian forces had been forced to pull back from the AZOM metals factory on the western side of the Bakhmutka river.
“The important thing here was to clear out the industrial zone at the plant itself. You can practically say that has now been done, with the guys just finishing off (Ukrainian) fighters there who are only left in solitary groups,” said Pushilin.
Both sides say they are inflicting heavy casualties on each other in Bakhmut.
Pushilin said fighters from Russia’s Wagner mercenary force were continuing to spearhead the offensive in the city.
“The (Wagner) guys are moving forward, of course they are moving forward, though it takes their hardest efforts to do that,” Pushilin told state TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov.
“They have created impossible conditions for the enemy to even carefully try to bring in combat equipment, bring in reserves, or take out even the wounded. For the enemy, all this is extremely difficult because all the roads are under (Russian) fire control.”
Telegram channels associated with Wagner on Tuesday published images that they said had been taken inside the metallurgical plant. They said Wagner mercenaries were flushing out small groups of Ukrainian fighters, including one holed up in an administrative building.
General Valery Zaluzhniy, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said on Saturday that Kyiv had managed to blunt Russia’s offensive in and around Bakhmut, where he said the situation was stabilising.
British military intelligence has said that the Russian assault has stalled, mainly as a result of heavy troop losses.
Ukrainian military commanders have said their own counter offensive – backed by newly-delivered Western hardware – is not far off, but have stressed the importance of holding Bakhmut in the meantime.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Kevin Liffey)