KYIV: Russia and Ukraine gave conflicting accounts of the situation in Bakhmut on Sunday, with Kyiv saying it still controlled a small part of the besieged eastern city while Moscow congratulated the Wagner private army and Russian troops for "liberating" it.
Russia said on Saturday it had fully captured the destroyed city, which would mark an end to the longest and bloodiest battle of the 15-month war. Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his troops and Wagner.
However, Ukrainian officials on Sunday disputed the claims. A top Ukrainian general said Kyiv's forces controlled what he accepted was an "insignificant" part of Bakhmut, but said the foothold would be enough to enter the devastated city when the situation changed.
General Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a Telegram post that Kyiv's forces were advancing on Russian forces in the suburbs and that they were getting closer to a "tactical encirclement" of the city, which was formerly home to 70,000 people.
"Our forces have taken the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy... the enemy has to defend himself in the part of the city he controls," Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said earlier on Sunday on Telegram.
Maliar added Ukrainian troops were still defending industrial and infrastructure facilities as well as a private sector of the city and had claimed part of the overlooking heights.
Over the past week, Ukrainian forces have made their most rapid gains for six months on Bakhmut's northern and southern flanks, with Russia acknowledging some setbacks for its troops.
Kyiv says its aim has been to draw Russian forces from elsewhere on the front into the city, to inflict high casualties there and weaken Moscow's defensive line elsewhere ahead of a planned major Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Zelenskiy compared to the US World War Two atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, in Japan.
"I'll tell you openly: Photographs of ruined Hiroshima absolutely remind me of Bakhmut and other similar settlements. Nothing left alive, all the buildings ruined," he told reporters as he attended G7 summit in Japan.
Taking Bakhmut - which Russia refers to by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk - would represent Moscow's first big victory in the conflict in more than 10 months.
The battle for Bakhmut has revealed a deepening split between Wagner, which has recruited thousands of convicts from Russian prisons, and the regular Russian military. — Reuters