Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the city of Bakhmut as completely destroyed, but he vehemently denies Russia’s claim of victory in the bloody battle for the city.
When asked about his forces’ control over the eastern Ukrainian city on Sunday, Zelensky expressed his sorrow and stated, “It’s a pity, it’s a tragedy, but for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts.”
His office later clarified that he had not confirmed the city’s fall.
On Saturday, the Russian paramilitary group Wagner claimed to have captured the city. Its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, appeared in a video with some of his fighters, declaring their control over the entire city. However, Ukraine’s government promptly denied this assertion while acknowledging the critical situation.
President Vladimir Putin further claimed Russia’s victory in the battle for Bakhmut on Sunday, announcing that all outstanding troops would receive state awards.
While Bakhmut holds little strategic value for Moscow, capturing the city would be a symbolic triumph for Russia after the longest battle in the Ukrainian war to date.
The two sides have been engaged in conflict over Bakhmut since August, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides. Western officials estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded, with Ukraine’s military also paying a high price.
During the G7 meeting in Hiroshima, Zelensky was questioned about Bakhmut and described the destruction, stating, “You have to understand, there is nothing. They destroyed everything.” He expressed gratitude for the Ukrainian defenders and their resolute efforts.
Bakhmut now stands in ruins, with the majority of its population having fled. Ukraine hopes that the protracted battle has depleted Russia’s army and resources.
The Wagner forces have spearheaded the assault on the city, and Yevgeny Prigozhin has frequently criticized the Russian defense ministry for inadequate supplies to his fighters.
In a video released on Saturday, Prigozhin stated, “No one can accuse us of not taking at least some part [of the city].” He also mentioned that Wagner troops would withdraw from the city later this month to rest and hand control over to regular Russian forces.
Explosions heard in the background of the video indicate ongoing fighting in close proximity to, if not within, the city. Prigozhin has previously claimed the capture of Bakhmut or most of it, only for the battle to persist.