The Russian paramilitary group Wagner claimed Monday the capture of the town hall of Bakhmout, saying that this conquest meant that it now controlled the city “in the legal sense”, Ukraine ensuring for its part that it still held this locality of the east of the country where fierce fighting has been raging for months.

“In the legal sense, Bakhmout has been captured. The enemy is concentrated in the western areas,” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Telegram.

A video accompanying his message shows Mr. Prigojine waving a Russian flag with an inscription in honor of Vladlen Tatarsky, Russian military blogger fervent defender of the offensive in Ukraine killed Sunday by the explosion of a bomb. This attack in a cafe in the historic center of Saint Petersburg also left 25 injured, according to the authorities.

“The commanders of the units that took the town hall and the whole center will go and raise this flag,” Prigojine said. “Here is the private military company Wagner, here are the guys who took Bakhmout. From a legal point of view, it is ours”, he proclaims.

The Ukrainian General Staff claimed the opposite. “The enemy has not stopped its assault on Bakhmout. However, the Ukrainian defenders bravely hold the city, repelling numerous enemy attacks,” the Ukrainian general staff said on its Facebook page on Sunday evening.

“Bakhmout, Avdiivka and Maryinka remain at the center of hostilities,” he added in his update on Monday at dawn. “The enemy does not stop its assaults on Bakhmout, trying to take complete control of it. Our soldiers repelled more than 20 enemy attacks,” he continued.

City of some 70,000 inhabitants before the conflict, Bakhmout has been the scene of particularly violent fighting for months. Due to the length of the battle and the heavy losses suffered by both sides, the city has become the symbol of the struggle between Russians and Ukrainians for control of the industrial region of Donbass.

Russian troops have advanced in recent months north and south of the city, cutting several Ukrainian supply routes and seizing its eastern part. On March 20, Yevgeny Prigojine claimed that Wagner controlled 70% of Bakhmout.

Ukraine believes that the battle for Bakhmut is essential to contain Russian forces on the entire eastern front, even if analysts judge the strategic importance of the city limited.

In his Sunday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the situation in Bakhmout was difficult for his troops.

“I am grateful to our warriors who are fighting near Avdiivka, Maryinka and Bakhmout. Especially Bakhmout! It is particularly hot there today!” Mr. Zelensky said.

The situation in the region “is still very tense,” said Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar on Sunday, before the announcement by Wagner’s chief. “The enemy is trying to engage not only Wagner’s fighters but also professional paratrooper units. Excessively high man casualties do not stop the enemy,” she added.

About 27 km from Bakhmout, in Kostiantynivka, a Russian bombardment on Sunday killed six people and injured 11, according to Ukrainian authorities.

These are “just residential areas”, “ordinary civilians of an ordinary city of Donbass” who were targeted, reacted President Zelensky.

AFP reporters saw a large crater in a courtyard and shattered windows from ground to upper floors in two 14-story buildings. The roofs of neighboring houses were shattered.

Police say Russia carried out a ‘massive attack’ in the morning, six S-300 and Hurricane missile strikes

“Sixteen apartment buildings, eight private residences, a kindergarten, an administrative building, three cars and a gas pipeline” were affected in total, she said.

Lilia, a 19-year-old psychology student met outside her badly damaged building with shards of glass still falling from the windows as she spoke, said she was “shocked”.

“I was very lucky not to have been home at the time,” she said.

Nina, a retiree, was looking at the damage done to her apartment on the ground floor of a Soviet-era building. She was also not at home when the explosions occurred.

“The interior doors and front door were blown out. An internal dividing wall broke. Not a single window remains,” she explained.

03/04/2023 14:32:36 –          Moscow (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP