Ukraine: Battle for mining town in front of Russian mercenaries not over

Russian mercenary group Wagner poses for a picture believed to be in a salt mine in Soledar

Soldiers from the Russian mercenary group Wagner, including leader Yevgeny Prigozhin (centre), pose at a salt mine in Soledar (Image: Reuters)

The fate of a salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine was at stake yesterday amid a fierce attack by Russian mercenary group Wagner Group.

Kyiv said its forces would hold out at Soledar, insisting Russian victory reports there were “untrue”.

The controversial claims follow one of the most brutal and costly battles of the 11-month war.

Soledar’s fall to Russian forces would be a price to pay for the Kremlin after Ukraine’s counter-offensive in recent months. It could also be a stepping stone to circling the strategically located town of Bakhmut, just six miles to the south.

Russia’s media carried a statement from Wagner boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who said it was in full control in Soledar and had encircled the city center.

But Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said “heavy fighting is ongoing” while other reports from Kyiv denied that Soledar had fallen.

Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hanna Maliar

Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine Hanna Maliar provided an update on the situation on the ground (Image: Getty)

Even with its salt mines, the city has little intrinsic value. But Russia has been searching for months for a way to capture Bakhmut, whose capture would open a way to advance on other key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian forces had “positive dynamics advancing” at Soledar – but he stopped explaining his capture. “Let’s not rush and wait for official statements,” he said.

Ukraine’s president said this week that the area was “completely destroyed” due to relentless shelling and weeks of house-to-house fighting.

“All the land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupying forces and the scars of the strikes,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. “This is what madness looks like.” The Wagner Group, which includes combatants recruited from Russian prisons, is regularly accused of war crimes.

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Justin Scacco

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