Ukraine Battles for Soledar as Russia Advances: Live Updates

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Credit…Roman Chop/Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine — Intense fighting continued in the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar on Wednesday, despite a claim by the founder of a Russian mercenary force that his troops had seized control of the town.

A Wednesday morning update from Ukraine’s General Staff of the Army gave no indication that the battle for the salt-mining town of Soledar, or the broader Bakhmut area, had ended. And Russia’s defense ministry and the Kremlin did not confirm the Wagner claim that Soledar had fallen, saying that the town was only blocked for now and that Russia’s advancement there was merely a tactical success.

In the ministry’s daily briefing on Wednesday, it said that its paratroopers “had blocked Soledar from the north and south” and that its assault units were “fighting in the city.” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, urged reporters to wait for official announcements about whether the city had been captured, adding that “tactical successes are certainly very important as they come at a rather expensive price.”

At close to 1 a.m. on Wednesday, Robert Magyar, a commander of a Ukrainian air reconnaissance group, had said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app that Ukrainian forces were still holding the town, though he acknowledged that the battle was brutal. “True — it’s hell,” he wrote, adding that the claims were “psychological pressure and propaganda.”

The assault is part of Russia’s broader push in the area around the city of Bakhmut that Moscow sees as important to achieving its goal of occupying all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. If Soledar did fall, the seizure of the relatively small municipality would be Russia’s first notable victory in months, after a string of humiliating losses. Ukraine changed the course of the war with its capture of the Kharkiv region in September and then the city of Kherson in November, successes of far greater magnitude.

Military experts say that although taking Soledar is significant, it does not signal that the city of Bakhmut is about to fall into Russian hands. Ukraine has strongly reinforced its positions in and around Bakhmut, presenting a formidable obstacle to further progress by Moscow.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, concluded in a Tuesday analysis that even if Russia captured Soledar, Ukraine could defend and resupply soldiers in Bakhmut.

“The reality of block-by-block control of terrain in Soledar is obfuscated by the dynamic nature of urban combat,” the analysis noted. “However, and Russian forces have largely struggled to make significant tactical gains in the Soledar area for months

The entrepreneur who started the Wagner Group, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, maintained in a post on the Telegram messaging app that his troops had control of all of Soledar, though he added that fighting was continuing. “A cauldron has been formed in the center of the city, in which urban battles are being fought,” Mr. Prigozhin said.

How a small salt-mining town with a prewar population of 10,000 became a focus of such a sustained assault by Wagner’s forces has been an open question. The most critical factor is perhaps what Mr. Prigozhin and his mercenaries fighting there have to gain in terms of reputation. In Bakhmut, the Wagner Group, which has recruited prisoners into its ranks, has become the main force leading the offensive for Russia, and the fighting has become bloodier.


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