KYIV – Fighting broke out in and around Bakhmut as Ukraine mocked Russian claims to have captured the administrative center of the eastern Ukrainian city, saying Russian forces had raised a victory banner over “some kind of bath ”.
Finland, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, will join NATO later Tuesday, just over a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, partly in response to what Russia said about aggressively expanding the alliance. to the east.
The battle for the mining town and logistics center of Bakhmut has been one of the bloodiest of the conflict, with heavy casualties on both sides and the town largely destroyed.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner’s mercenary force leading the siege, said on Sunday that his troops had raised a Russian flag at the city center’s administrative building despite Ukrainian soldiers still holding some Western positions.
But the Ukrainian military scoffed at that claim, saying fighting was taking place around the city hall building, as well as other nearby towns.
“Bakhmut is Ukrainian and they have not captured anything and are a long way from doing so,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the eastern military command, told Reuters.
“They raised the flag over some kind of toilet. They stuck him to the side of who knows what, hung up the rag and said they had taken the city. Well, let them think they have taken him away,” Cherevatyi added by phone.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said in an evening statement that 45 enemy attacks had been repelled in total in the past 24 hours, with Bakhmut at the “epicenter of operations” along with the towns of Avdiivka and Maryinka further south.
Reuters was unable to verify the reports from the battlefield.
‘WAITING FOR ORDERS’
Bordering a part of the Russian-controlled Donetsk province, Bakhmut had a population of 70,000 before Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
Russian forces, bogged down in a war of attrition after a series of setbacks, seek victory in their winter offensive, but have suffered heavy casualties around Bakhmut.
Ukrainian military commanders have said their own counteroffensive, backed by newly delivered Western tanks and other equipment, is not far away, but they have stressed the importance of holding Bakhmut and inflicting losses in the meantime.
“People are ready for the counteroffensive, all we are waiting for are marching orders and details about which direction we should move: Bakhmut, Soledar or anywhere else,” said a 35-year-old soldier from a tank brigade near Bakhmut. . who used the nom-de-guerre Polyot.
Russia launched up to 17 Iranian-made Shahed drones overnight, Ukraine’s air force command said early Tuesday, with its air defense systems destroying 14 of them.
Yuriy Kruk, head of the regional military administration in the Black Sea port city of Odessa, said the region was attacked by several drones and there was damage, but did not specify the extent.
Four civilians were killed and three wounded in Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk, its governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said in a statement.
‘DRIVE A WEDGE’
Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid it of the Nazis.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers on both sides have been killed. Russia has destroyed Ukrainian cities and forced millions of people to flee their homes, and claims to have annexed almost a fifth of Ukraine.
The West calls the war an unprovoked assault to subdue an independent country and has provided kyiv with weapons as it seeks to punish Russia with sanctions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of trying to drive a wedge between Russia and China, and trying to ruin Russia’s planned summit with African countries. He also said that the European Union’s hostile stance towards Moscow meant that it had “lost” Russia.
Echoing that anger, the speaker of the Russian parliament said that Western leaders have blood on their hands for supporting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and that such support had led to the creation of a “terrorist state” in the center. of Europe.
Vyacheslav Volodin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said the killing of prominent war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in a bomb attack in St. Petersburg over the weekend was a “terrorist act” committed by Kiev.
Ukraine blamed “domestic terrorism” for the blast.
NATO will welcome Finland as its 31st member at a flag-raising ceremony at its headquarters outside Brussels.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led Finns to seek safety under the umbrella of NATO’s collective defense pact, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Russia has also said it would strengthen its military capabilities in its western and northwestern regions in response to Finland’s accession.