The corpses of Russian soldiers are ‘covering the ground’ of a Ukrainian town where there is ‘no life left’ amid fierce fighting, president Volodymyr Zelensky said last night.
In Soledar, once a bustling salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine, the ground is now scarred from a relentless stream of missiles and gunfire as Russian forces aim to take control of the nearby and key city of Bakhmut.
Everything in the town is ‘completely destroyed’, with no walls left standing and the dead bodies of the invading Russian soldiers decaying on the streets, Zelensky said.
But Britain’s defence ministry today said that Russian soldiers and forces of Putin’s Wagner contract group were probably now in control of most of the salt mining town after advances in the last four days.
In Soledar, once a bustling salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine, the ground is now scarred from a relentless stream of missiles and gunfire as Russian forces aim to take control of the nearby and key city of Bakhmut. Pictured: A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian soldiers sheltered near a building in the destroyed town of Soledar
Soledar, in the industrial Donbas region, lies just nine miles from Bakhmut, where troops from both sides have been taking heavy losses in some of the most intense trench warfare since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year
Yet this rare Russian victory has come at a high price for Putin’s men, with Zelensky saying on Monday night that it’s been a bloodbath in Soledar.
‘Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left. Thousands of their people have been lost: the whole ground near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the blows. This is how madness looks like,’ the Ukrainian leader said.
Soledar, in the industrial Donbas region, lies just nine miles from Bakhmut, where troops from both sides have been taking heavy losses in some of the most intense trench warfare since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Russia is trying to take control of Bakhmut as it has a network of cavernous mining tunnels below the ground which can hold troops or tanks.
Russian troops have stepped up their assault of Soledar, forcing Ukrainian troops to bear wave after wave of attacks led by the Wagner mercenaries.
‘Russia’s Soledar axis is highly likely an effort to envelop Bakhmut from the north, and to disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication,’ Britain said in an intelligence briefing on Tuesday.
Smoke rises from strikes on the frontline city of Soledar, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, as seen from Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on January 5
Everything in the town is ‘completely destroyed’, with no walls left standing and the dead bodies of the invading Russian soldiers decaying on the streets, Zelensky said
Britain’s Ministry of Defence added: ‘Part of the fighting has focused on entrances to the 200km-long disused salt mine tunnels which run underneath the district. Both sides are likely concerned that they could be used for infiltration behind their lines.’
‘Despite the increased pressure on Bakhmut, Russia is unlikely to envelop the town imminently because Ukrainian forces maintain stable defensive lines in depth and control over supply routes.’
Meanwhile, the Wagner group said today it was fighting ‘heavy, bloody battles’ for control of Soledar.
In a highly unusual move, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin praised the Ukrainian soldiers for ‘honourably defending’ Soldedar and dismissed allegations that Zelensky’s men were deserting front lines en masse in the town.
‘On the western outskirts of Soledar there are heavy bloody battles. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are honourably defending the territory of Soledar,’ the Kremlin-linked businessman said on social media.
‘Let’s be honest with ourselves. The Ukrainian army is bravely fighting for Bakhmut and Soledar. Reports of their mass desertion are not true,’ Prigozhin said.
Prigozhin said earlier this week that Soledar was being stormed ‘exclusively’ by Wagner units, saying they were fighting fiercely for the city’s administration building.
Ukrainian servicemen administer first aid to a wounded soldier in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with Russian forces in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Sunday
Commander of the Ukrainian army, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, gives instructions in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with the Russian forces, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Sunday
Meanwhile, Zelensky said last night of the fierce fighting: ‘I thank all our soldiers who protect our Bakhmut… [and] all the fighters in Soledar, who are withstanding the new and even tougher assaults from the invaders.’
Earlier Monday, the Ukrainian armed forces said they repelled an attempt to seize Soledar, but that fighting resumed.
‘After an unsuccessful attempt of the enemy to capture Soledar and retreat, [Russians] regrouped, recovered the manpower, transferred additional assault units, changed tactics and started assault actions,’ Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Ganna Malyar said on Telegram.
‘Currently, the enemy has deployed a large number of assault units formed from the best reserves of the Wagner Group. They literally step on the corpses of their own soldiers,’ she added.
Earlier on Monday Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donetsk region said they captured the village of Bakhmutske, just a few kilometres from Soledar.
Separately, Wagner’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on social media that Soledar was being stormed ‘exclusively’ by the group’s units.
Wagner draws some recruits from Russia’s prisons and is known for uncompromising violence. It is also active in conflicts in Africa and has taken a prominent role in Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
Prigozhin has been trying to capture Bakhmut and Soledar for months at the cost of many lives on both sides.
He said on Saturday its significance lay in a network of cavernous underground mining tunnels which can hold troops or tanks.
A U.S. official has said Prigozhin was eyeing the salt and gypsum from the mines, believed to extend over 100 miles underground and contain auditorium-scale caverns.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said fighting in Bahkmut and Soledar was ‘the most intense on the entire frontline’.
‘So many remain on the battlefield… either dead or wounded,’ he said on YouTube.
‘They attack our positions in waves, but the wounded as a rule die where they lie, either from exposure as it is very cold or from blood loss. No one is coming to help them or to collect the dead from the battlefield.
In an evacuee centre in nearby Kramatorsk, Olha, 60, said she had fled Soledar after moving from apartment to apartment as each was destroyed in tank battles.
In an evacuee centre in nearby Kramatorsk, Olha, 60, (pictured) said she had fled Soledar after moving from apartment to apartment as each was destroyed in tank battles
‘There isn’t one house left intact. Apartments were burning, breaking in half,’ said Olha, who gave only her first name.
Ukrainian officials, led by the commander in chief General Valery Zaluzhny, have warned that Russia is preparing fresh troops for a new offensive on Ukraine, possibly on the capital Kyiv.
Zelensky also appears to be banking on securing more sophisticated weapons from Ukraine’s Western partners to beat off attacks and eventually expel Russian troops.
On Monday, he pressed on with diplomatic efforts, speaking to Petr Fiala, prime minister of the Czech Republic.
‘I am certain that our soldiers at the front will get these weapons and equipment very soon,’ he said.
France, Germany and the United States all pledged last week to send armoured fighting vehicles, fulfilling a long-standing Ukrainian request.
Britain is considering supplying Ukraine with tanks for the first time, Sky News reported, citing a Western source. Britain’s Ministry of Defence did not comment.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s general staff of the Army claimed 710 Russian soldiers have been killed in a single day, increasing the number of Putin’s men killed in battle to 112,470.
More than 10 months into the fighting, Russia has faced a series of humiliating setbacks on the ground in Ukraine.
The Russian military’s high command has come in for particular criticism in recent days following a strike by Ukrainian forces over New Year in which Moscow said 89 of its soldiers died.