Who controls the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut? It depends who you ask.
According to Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the Russian mercenary organization Wagner, his troops have taken “all the territories they promised to capture, to the last square centimeter.”
But Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky says his forces are still fighting in Bakhmut.
Who has claimed what?
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said Monday that Ukrainian forces still occupy “a small part of the city” and are advancing on Bakhmut’s flanks.
On Tuesday, Maliar claimed that fighting has “decreased,” but that Ukraine’s forces had retained their small foothold in the city.
Fighting continues in the suburbs. The enemy is trying to take advantageous positions, but fails. In certain areas, the enemy is on the defensive,” she said.
But Russian officials tell a different story. In a video released Saturday, Prigozhin stood alongside his mercenaries and claimed to have taken complete control of the city, saying he would hand it over to Russia later in May.
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Wagner for “the completion of the operation to liberate Artemovsk” – using the Soviet-Russian name for Bakhmut.
How important is Bakhmut?
Bakhmut sits toward the northeast of the Donetsk region and has long been a target for Russian forces. Since last summer the city has been a stone’s throw from the front lines.
But, despite Russia pouring vast amounts of manpower and resources into capturing the city, its military value has long been questioned by Western analysts, Ukrainian officials and even Prigozhin himself, who claimed earlier this month that Bakhmut was of “no strategic importance.”
Instead, Prigozhin claimed he intended to wear down Ukrainian troops using tactics he frequently compared to a “meat-grinder,” sending wave after wave of his own soldiers into the battle.
But these tactics came at a heavy – and unsustainable – cost. There are no official casualty figures, but earlier this year a NATO source told CNN they estimated that for every Ukrainian soldier killed defending Bakhmut, Russia lost five.
What remains of Bakhmut?
While it is uncertain whether Bakhmut has fully “fallen” to Wagner troops, new images have made clear that there is not much left standing in the city.
The city has been devastated by the months-long, street-by-street Russian assault, drawing comparisons to other cities that have borne the full brunt of Russian aggression, such as Grozny and Aleppo. In his comments at the G7, Zelensky said pictures of ruined Hiroshima he saw on a visit to the Japanese city “really remind” him of Bakhmut.