Ukrainian forces says they are conducting “effective counterattacks” in the Bakhmut area, in comments that are in line with claims from the leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner that Kyiv has recaptured some territory.
Yevgeny Prigozhin on Wednesday accused a Russian brigade of abandoning its position in front-line Bakhmut, allowing Ukraine to seize territory. He has repeatedly accused the defense ministry of failing to give his forces the supplies they need.
Prigozhin also accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of lying, after he remarked that Kyiv still needs “a bit more time” before it launches a much anticipated counteroffensive. “Zelensky is lying,” Prigozhin said on his official social media channels Thursday. “The counteroffensive is in full swing.”
Ukrainian military officials have previously said the counterattacks around Bakhmut mentioned by Prigozhin are part of a “positional struggle,” and not necessarily related to a larger counteroffensive effort.
Bakhmut is the site of a months-long assault by Russian forces, including Wagner mercenaries, that has driven thousands from their homes and left the area devastated. But despite the vast amounts of manpower Russia has poured into capturing the city, they have been unable to take total control, and on Wednesday suffered heavy losses in the area.
“Thanks to our well-thought-out defense in the Bakhmut sector, we are getting results from the effective actions of our units,” the commander of Ukrainian Land Forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Telegram Wednesday.
“In particular, we are conducting effective counterattacks. In some areas of the front, the enemy was unable to withstand the onslaught of Ukrainian defenders and retreated to a distance of up to 2 kilometers.”
“Despite a significant concentration of troops and loud statements by Russian war criminals about their intentions to take Bakhmut by May 9, the enemy failed to capture the Ukrainian city. Our defense forces are holding the frontline securely and preventing the enemy from advancing. The battle for Bakhmut continues.”
He singled out the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, which was involved in an assault on the positions of the 72nd Brigade and “inflicted a powerful strike on the enemy in the battle.”
Prigozhin has also indicated that Ukrainian forces have been able to advance south of Bakhmut. He earlier fumed that a Russian brigade “fled” from Bakhmut area, allowing Ukrainians to seize kilometers of territory.
In comments Tuesday, Prigozhin said that “one of the units of the Ministry of Defense fled from one of our flanks, abandoning their positions. They all fled and [laid] bare a front nearly 2 kilometers wide and 500 meters deep.”
Prighozhin said that the “72nd brigade f***ed up three square kilometers today, on which I had about 500 people killed. Because it was a strategic bridgehead. They just ran the hell out of there.”
He also blamed another private military contractor, known as “The Blue Torch,” for the reverse, saying it “scattered just like the 72nd Brigade did.”
“Instead of fighting, we have intrigues spinning all the time. We have a ministry of intrigue instead of a Ministry of Defense. That’s why we have an army running,” Prigozhin added.
The 72nd Brigade (or Separate Motorized Regiment as it is sometimes called) is part of the Russian military’s Western Military District.
As for soldiers fleeing, Prigozhin said: “That’s not the soldiers’ problem. It is the problem of those who manage them and who set the tasks. The fish rots from the head. A soldier leaves the trenches because it is not necessary to die [as] useless. A soldier may die, but a soldier should not die because of the utter stupidity of his leadership.”
The developments mark dramatic turn of events in an area where gains and losses have usually been measured in a few meters.