Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated his country’s troops after the Defense Ministry declared its forces, along with those of Wagner military group, have gained full control over the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
“As a result of offensive actions by Wagner assault units, supported by artillery and aviation of the Southern Group of Forces, the liberation of Artyomovsk has been completed,” the ministry said in a late Saturday statement, referring to the city by its Soviet-era name.
Following the announcement, Putin congratulated his country’s troops for capturing Bakhmut, saying those who had distinguished themselves would be given awards.
The battle over the city has been described as the heaviest to take place between the Russian and Ukrainian forces since last February when Moscow began what it called a special military operation in the ex-Soviet republic. Russia said the operation was aimed at defending the pro-Russia population in eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk against persecution by Kiev, and also to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
The new development came after Wagner military group announced earlier on Saturday that its forces had taken the Ukrainian city in its entirety.
“Today on May 20, around midday, Bakhmut was taken in its entirety,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, who heads the group, said in the video posted on Telegram, adding that Wagner’s fighters would search the captured city before handing it over to the Russian army.
“We completely took the whole city, from house to house,” he said.
“By May 25, we will completely examine [Bakhmut], create the necessary lines of defense, and hand it to the military,” he noted in the video that featured Wagner forces holding up Russian flags in the city, adding, “We ourselves will go into field camps.”
Taking Bakhmut would represent Moscow’s first big victory in the conflict in more than 10 months.
Ukraine, however, has rejected Moscow’s claim about the fall of the city.
“Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar posted on Telegram, adding that Ukrainian troops were “holding the defense” in the city’s “Airplane area.”
“As of now, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area,” she added.
Source: Press TV