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Wagner says Russian fighters near central Bakhmut 'killing zone'

Town's fall could lead to further Russian advances in east — Ukraine officials

By AFP - Mar 11,2023 - Last updated at Mar 11,2023

A flock of birds fly over the destroyed village of Topolske, Kharkiv region, on Friday, amid Russia's military invasion Ukraine (AFP photo)

KYIV — The head of Russian paramilitary group Wagner said on Saturday his fighters were near the centre of Bakhmut as a top Ukrainian commander insisted it was important to "buy time" ahead of an upcoming counteroffensive.

British intelligence said in an update the frontline in the fight for Bakhmut, the longest and bloodiest battle of Moscow's one-year invasion, had shifted — but any further Russian advance in the devastated town could be "highly challenging".

Some military experts have questioned the sense of the continued fight for Bakhmut, but Ukrainian officials say that the town's fall could lead to further Russian advances in the east.

In a video released on Saturday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of Russian mercenary group Wagner, said that his forces were close to the administrative centre of Bakhmut.

Standing on the rooftop of a high-rise building in what is said to be Bakhmut, Prigozhin is seen pointing towards a building in the distance.

"This is the building of the town administration, this is the centre of the town," he said.

"It is one kilometre and two hundred metres away," said Prigozhin, who was clad in full military gear.

Speaking as artillery boomed in the background, Prigozhin said that the most important thing now was to receive more ammunition from the army and "move forward."

Wagner has been spearheading offensives against cities in eastern Ukraine including Bakhmut. Both sides have suffered heavy losses.

Earlier this week Wagner said its fighters had captured the eastern part of Bakhmut.

 

‘Necessary to buy time’ 

 

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, said on Saturday the fight for Bakhmut helped win time in preparation for a future counteroffensive.

“The real heroes now are the defenders who are holding the eastern front on their shoulders, and inflicting the heaviest possible losses sparing neither themselves nor the enemy,” Syrsky was quoted as saying in a statement.

“It is necessary to buy time to build reserves and launch a counteroffensive, which is not far off.”

The military said that Syrsky was at “the most important area” of the frontline but did not provide further details.

British military intelligence said that the Bakhmutka River in the centre of Bakhmut now marked the front line.

“Ukrainian forces hold the west of the town and have demolished key bridges over the river, which runs north-south through a strip of open ground 200 metres-800 metres wide,” the British defence ministry said.

“This area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.”

Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has been entangled in a power struggle with the defence ministry.

He has several times claimed battlefield victories ahead of Russia’s army, criticised Russia’s top brass and accused the military of not sharing ammunition with his ragtag forces.

On Saturday he said he was ready to ask Russia’s top commanders for forgiveness but at the same time appeared to mock Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

He said they were “outstanding military commanders” and added that Russia’s greatest military leaders including Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Suvorov “could have learnt” from them.

“I absolutely — totally — support all their initiatives,” Prigozhin added.

 

Shelling of Kherson 

 

The Russian army kept shelling the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, killing three people and wounding another two, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday.

“Russian terrorists are shelling Kherson again,” said Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office.

He posted a picture of firefighters next to a charred car.

Several cars were damaged as a result of the shelling.

Galyna Kolisnyk, 53, said the Russians struck when she was in a store.

“When we entered, literally five minutes later this tragedy happened,” she told AFP.

“Explosions began, our car got hit,” she said. “This is horrible.”

Kherson is the capital of one of the four regions — along with Donetsk, Lugansk and Zaporizhzhia — that Russia claims to have annexed but does not fully control.

Despite Russia’s retreat from the city of Kherson late last year, it has been regularly pounded by Moscow’s troops.

Donetsk’s separatist mayor Alexei Kulemzin said on Saturday that as a result of Ukrainian shelling two people including a young boy were killed.

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