Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the city of Bakhmut has been “completely destroyed” by Moscow’s Wagner private army, backed by Russian troops, after a bloody eight-month battle.
“They destroyed everything,” Zelenskyy said on Sunday, speaking at the G7 summit in the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts,” he said. “There is nothing in this place.”
However, his spokesman earlier on Sunday denied reports attributed to the Ukrainian president that the besieged eastern Ukrainian city was captured by the Russian forces.
“Reporter’s question: Russians said they have taken Bakhmut,” Sergii Nykyforov wrote on Facebook. “President’s reply: I think no.”
He added in Ukrainian: “In this way, the president denied the capture of Bakhmut.”
Putin congratulates troops
Russia claims to have fully captured the city in what would mark its first major victory in more than 10 months.
“As a result of offensive actions of the Wagner assault units, with the support of artillery and aviation of the ‘Southern’ unit, the liberation of the city of Artemovsk was completed,” Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
In a Kremlin statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to have congratulated the assault units and support servicemen of units involved in the battle for the city.
Wagner’s boss Yevgeny Prigozhin had posted a video earlier on the messaging app Telegram that showed Russian fighters in front of a ruined cityscape.
“Today on May 20, around midday, Bakhmut was taken in its entirety,” Prigozhin said in the video, adding that Wagner fighters would search the captured city before handing it over to the Russian army.
“By May 25, we will completely examine [Bakhmut], create the necessary lines of defence and hand it to the military,” Prigozhin said. “We ourselves will go into field camps.” Fighting was audible in the background as he spoke.