Smoke rises from strikes on the frontline city of Soledar Smoke rises from strikes on the frontline city of Soledar  (REUTERS)

Battles rage in the eastern Ukraine town of Soledar

Ukraine defies claims by Russian mercenaries that they have seized an eastern Ukrainian town. The capture of Soledar would have been the first Russian military victory in months. Both Russia and Ukraine are now acknowledging heavy battles in the troubled region.

By Stefan J. Bos
Footage emerged of fierce fighting around Soledar, with Ukraine's deputy defence minister saying that Russian forces were trying "without success" to break through Ukrainian defensive lines to capture Soledar fully.

As battles raged, Russia stopped short of claiming victory over Soledar, and the Kremlin acknowledged heavy casualties.

That was a far cry from claims by Russian mercenaries earlier Wednesday.

In a statement, Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group and a close ally of Russia's president, said his forces had seized Soledar amid heavy fighting.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin said the situation in Ukrainian regions that Moscow annexed from Ukraine was "difficult in places."

Ending Attacks?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Russian forces to end the attacks after thanking his troops for what he called "assaults from the invaders."

In a televised address to the nation, he clarified that a possible Moscow victory would only mean more human suffering.

President Zelensky said: "What was Russia going to gain out there? It's completely destroyed, and almost no life remains in Soledar. They lost thousands of men; the ground there is covered with corpses of occupiers and is bruised with strikes. This is what insanity looks like."

Soledar is a few kilometres from Bakhmut, where troops of both sides suffered heavy losses in some of the most intense trench warfare since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 11 months ago.

Britain said in its regular intelligence update that the battle for Soledar seemed part of an effort to "envelop Bakhmut from the north and disrupt Ukrainian communication lines."

What has become clear, however, is that many more will die in what is already Europe's worst armed conflict since the Second World War.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

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11 January 2023, 16:37