"the city is not busy" Zelensky on the capture of Bakhmut by Russian paramilitaries

The Russian paramilitary group Wagner, whose troops were on the front line of the fighting, and the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that Bakhmut had been “totally liberated.”

During the last months, that town became the epicenter of the fighting in the war launched by Russia in February 2022.

Russian troops are in Bakhmut, but “the city is not occupied,” Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky said Sunday on the sidelines of a G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, which he attended to seek diplomatic support and military aid.

“Today they are in Bakhmut. Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia today,” Zelensky told a news conference.

“They must understand that there is nothing left” there, declared the Ukrainian leader, who compared the situation in Bakhmut with that of Hiroshima after the explosion of the atomic bomb.

“There is absolutely nothing alive, all the buildings are destroyed (…) An absolute and total destruction,” he said.

For his part, the commander of the Ukrainian land forces, Oleksander Syrsky, reported that his troops only control an “insignificant” part of Bakhmut but that they continue to “advance” on the flanks to the north and south of the city.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said Kiev’s forces had “partially surrounded” Bakhmut thanks to their advances north and south of the city, which “makes the enemy’s presence very difficult” in the town.

Again, he indicated that the Ukrainian forces continue to control “some industrial facilities and infrastructure” in that town.

The capture of Bakhmut, which in recent months had been 90% conquered by the Russians, was claimed on Saturday by Wagner’s boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who assured that he would hand over control of the city to the Russian army on May 25. .

On Sunday, Prigozhin insisted that Bakhmut was taken “to the last inch” within its “legal borders.” “There is not a single Ukrainian soldier in Bakhmut,” he stressed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Wagner’s fighters and the Russian army for “the achievement of the operation to liberate” Bakhmut and vowed to reward the soldiers who distinguished themselves in the battle, which began last summer.

– New weapons for Ukraine –

If Bakhmut’s fall is confirmed, it would allow Russia to score a key victory after a series of humiliating defeats, just as Ukraine says it is preparing a major counter-offensive with Western-supplied weapons.

On the sidelines of the G7 summit, Volodimir Zelensky met with several leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who stressed that Putin “will not break” the “determination” of Westerners to support Ukraine.

During that meeting, Zelensky obtained a promise that the United States would supply Ukraine with more ammunition, artillery and armored vehicles, after Washington agreed to hand over the F-16 fighter jets that Kiev had long demanded.

According to Biden, the Ukrainian president “firmly assured” him that kyiv will not attack Russian territory with those planes.

Moscow and kyiv are believed to have suffered heavy losses in Bakhmut, a city that before the war had some 70,000 inhabitants and is now largely destroyed by fighting.

– Bakhmut’s “hell” –

The battle for that city also gave rise to an open conflict between Wagner’s chief and the Russian General Staff, which Yevgeny Prigozhin accuses of not having deliberately supplied his men with enough ammunition to weaken the paramilitary group.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported the evacuation of ten Bakhmut civilians, including a teenage girl. It is not known how many inhabitants remain in the town, but it is believed that very few.

“The road rescue operation was difficult, in the middle of mines and under fire from the occupants,” the institution said in a statement on Sunday. “If hell exists, it is in Bakhmut,” said one of the evacuated inhabitants, quoted by the ministry.

On the diplomatic front, there are several initiatives to promote peace negotiations, such as the tour of a Chinese emissary who visited Kiev this week and the constitution of a delegation of six African leaders who plan to travel to Russia in June or July.

In addition, the Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has entrusted a peace mission to Ukraine to Matteo Zuppi, cardinal of the Sant’Egidio community, known for its work in the service of diplomacy.

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