April 23 (Reuters) – Russia said on Sunday its forces had advanced into Bakhmut, while a senior Ukrainian commander said his forces held a frontline across the city but had been completely destroyed in the bloodiest battle of the 14-month-old war.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had secured two blocs in the western districts and that airborne units were providing reinforcements to the north and south. Russia considers Bakhmut a springboard for further advances in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian Colonel General Oleksandr Sersky shared photos on the Telegram messaging app of him gazing at a map with three other uniformed men, with the caption, “Bakhmut’s front line. Our defense continues.”
“We have struck the enemy, often unexpectedly for him, and we continue to hold strategic lines,” he wrote.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, commander of the Wagner Special Military Force leading the Bakhmut offensive, had 80% control of the city. Kiev has repeatedly denied allegations that its forces are about to withdraw.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to continue defending the city.
“It is impossible for us to give up Bakhmut because this will [help] “The expansion of the battle front will give Russian and Wagner forces opportunities to seize more of our lands,” Zelensky said in an interview with Al-Arabiya news channel published on Sunday.
On Sunday, the Russian president of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region also denied a report by a US think tank that Ukrainian forces had taken up positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.
Vladimir Saldo wrote on his Telegram channel: “There is no enemy foothold on the left (eastern) bank of the Dnipro River… Our army completely controls that area.”
Citing Russian military bloggers linked to Moscow’s forces, the Institute for the Study of War said Ukraine had “established positions” on the east bank, though it was not clear “on what scale or with what intentions”.
Russia withdrew its forces from the West Bank last year, part of a series of withdrawals that signaled a shift in momentum in Kiev’s favor.
Natalya Homenyuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Southern Command, did not confirm or deny the report, which she told Ukrainian television warned of “very strong shelling” in areas around the West Bank cities of Kherson and Breslavl.
“In response to such information, the enemy greatly intensified its attacks on the opposite bank,” it said. She said civilians were injured and about 30 buildings were destroyed, including a school.
(Reporting by Jake Cordell and Dan Belichuk) Editing by Hugh Lawson
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