Ukraine has denied the reports circulated by the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner that his private army has captured the entire town of Bakhmut.
“This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut,” military spokesperson Serhiy Cherevatyi told Reuters on Saturday afternoon following initial unverified reports.
Ukrainian troops are holding the line in the southwestern part of the city, he added.
Ukraine also reiterated that its troops still controlled certain areas, but deemed the situation on the ground as "critical" for Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut.
“The situation is critical. At the same time…our defenders control some industrial facilities and infrastructure in the area as well as in the private sector,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Telegram.
On Saturday afternoon, the leader of the Russian mercenary army Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed to have completely captured the destroyed town of Bakhmut after months of battle.
Prigozhin made the announcement in a message distributed via the social media platform Telegram. Ukraine has vehemently denied the claim and states that the fighting continues.
"On 20 May 2023, at noon, Bakhmut was completely captured," Prigozhin said in a video message distributed by his press office via Telegram. "The operation to control Bakhmut lasted 224 days...There was only Wagner here," said Prigozhin.
The mercenary group's claim to have completely captured Bakhmut has not yet been independently verified.
The Wagner boss has been openly at loggerheads with the Russian army leadership. "We fought not only against the Ukrainian army in Bakhmut, but also against the Russian bureaucracy that put sticks in our wheels," he said in another video jab to military officials on Saturday.
On 5 May, Wagner had announced plans to withdraw from the town of Bakhmut, the epicentre of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, on 10 May, but quickly back peddled after he claimed Moscow had pledged to deliver more ammunition for his private army.
On Saturday, Prigozhin also confirmed that the fighting in Bakhmut will be handed over to the Russian army on 25 May.
Russia has been trying to take the strategic town of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, for months. They control at least large parts of the almost completely destroyed cit.
There was talk of Ukrainian troops advancing around the town, although Ukraine also admitted that in the town itself Russian Wagner mercenaries could gain ground in the centre.