Soledar: Russia claims to have taken salt-mining town after Ukraine reports ‘hot’ night of attacks

Soledar: Russia claims to have taken salt-mining town after Ukraine reports ‘hot’ night of attacks

Russia claimed on Friday to have taken control of the salt-mining town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine but Kyiv said its troops were still fighting in the town.

Moscow said its forces captured the town, long the focus of heavy fighting and bombardment, on Thursday evening, claiming to have made its first big battlefield gain after half a year of military setbacks.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence said this would make it possible to cut off Ukrainian supply routes to the larger town of Bakhmut, to the southwest, and trap remaining Ukrainian forces there.

The claim could not be immediately verified, and was at odds with earlier statements from Kyiv which said its forces had managed to hold their positions in Soledar overnight following a night of heavy Russian attacks.

According to Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar, troops held the eastern town after what she called a “hot” night of attacks.

“The night in Soledar was hot, battles continued,” she wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

"The enemy threw almost all the main forces in the direction of Donetsk and maintains a high intensity of offensive. Our fighters are bravely trying to maintain the defence," she said, referring to the Donetsk region which includes Soledar.

 (AP)
(AP)

"This is a difficult phase of the war, but we will win. There is no doubt.”

Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine's eastern military command, told Reuters on Friday Soledar had not been captured: "Our units are there, the town is not under Russian control."

Soledar and Bakhmut have been key targets for Vladimir Putin’s men.

“The liberation of the town of Soledar was completed in the evening of January 12,” Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defence Ministry’s spokesman, said, adding that the development was “important for the continuation of offensive operations in the Donetsk region”.

Taking control of Soledar would allow Russian forces “to cut supply lines for the Ukrainian forces” in Bakhmut and then “block and encircle the Ukrainian units there”, Lt Gen Konashenkov said.However, the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said that a Russian seizure of Soledar was “not an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut”.The institute said that Russian information operations have “overexaggerated the importance of Soledar”, a small settlement, arguing as well that the long and difficult battle has contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces.

Undated satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 10 showing damage to buildings in Soledar (AP)
Undated satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies on January 10 showing damage to buildings in Soledar (AP)

Outside Soledar, Ukrainian soldiers were dug into well-fortified trenches in the wintry woods. Explosions echoed in the distance.

A 24-year-old soldier using the call-sign BUK, told Reuters the intensity of shelling had risen by around 70 percent, but forces were still holding their positions.

“The situation is difficult but stable. We're holding back the enemy ... we're fighting back.”

Reuters could not verify the situation inside the town, which had around 10,000 residents before the war. Ukrainian officials say more than 500 civilians are trapped inside, including 15 children.

In an overnight video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked two units in Soledar he said were “holding their positions and inflicting significant losses on the enemy.” He did not give more details.

Speaking on Thursday, a Kremlin spokesman praised its own forces following the brutal exchanges in the region.