Bakhmut ‘not occupied’ by Russian forces insists Zelensky despite catastrophic damage to city

Bakhmut ‘not occupied’ by Russian forces insists Zelensky despite catastrophic damage to city

Volodymyr Zelensky has denied that Bakhmut is occupied after Russian forces claimed to have captured the city.

The Ukrainian President said on Sunday there is “little left” of the city as it has been “destroyed” following months of intense fighting.

Asked if it was still in Ukrainian control, the president said: “I think no.” He then added that “for today, it is only in our hearts.”

Speaking alongside Joe Biden later on Sunday, Mr Zelensky then insisted the city “is not occupied by Russia” while Ukraine’s military personnel in Bakhmut are “accomplishing a very important mission”.

He then went on to draw parallels between the destruction of the city and the devastation caused to Hiroshima after it was destroyed by the atomic bomb.

Previously, the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group announced his troops had captured the whole of Bakhmut on Saturday. The claim was denied by Ukrainian officials at the time.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the group, said that his forces would begin withdrawing from the now destroyed city in the Donbas region from Thursday.

“The operation to capture Bakhmut, ‘The Bakhmut meat grinder’, lasted 224 days,” he said in a speech posted on his Telegram channel. “For 224 days the guys stormed the city. There were only Wagner mercenaries there.”

Founder of Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin claims control of Bakhmut (via REUTERS)
Founder of Wagner mercenary group Yevgeny Prigozhin claims control of Bakhmut (via REUTERS)

Prigozhin recorded his six-minute speech standing near a row of destroyed buildings.

Artillery could be heard booming in the background and nine impassive mercenaries stood around him holding Wagner and Russian flags.

Prigozhin, who has previously admitted that Bakhmut holds little strategic value, had promised to hand Vladimir Putin his first notable battlefield victory against Ukraine in more than a year.

The leader of the private army, has previously criticised the Russian military and even threatened to pull out his troops from the city last week.

Analysts have said that Wagner has lost tens of thousands of men fighting in Bakhmut, mainly convicts recruited from Russian prisons.