Ukrainian troops are advancing in both directions in the eastern city of Bakhmut, but the situation in the center of the city is more complicated, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Saturday.
Ukrainian and Russian officials both say pro-Kiev forces have begun to push back Bakhmut and its environs after a months-long offensive by forces loyal to Moscow left much of the city in ruins.
Russia admitted on Friday that its forces had fallen back north of Bakhmut, ahead of a long-promised counteroffensive by Ukraine to retake more territory lost since the war began last year.
“Our troops are gradually advancing in both directions in the suburbs of Bakhmut… however, the situation in the city itself is more complicated,” Malyar wrote on Telegram.
“Thanks to the competent planning of the command and the courage of our fighters, the enemy is unable to take the city under their control.”
Alexander Sirsky, commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, said on Telegram that Ukrainian soldiers in the area “are advancing in some areas of the front, and the enemy is losing equipment and manpower.”
Most of the battles in Bakhmut are led by the Wagner group of mercenaries. Telegram founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said his men had advanced up to 550 meters in some directions on Saturday and said Ukrainian forces controlled less than 1.78 square kilometers of the center.
Prigogine is embroiled in a public relations war with Moscow’s Defense Ministry over what he says is a refusal to provide sufficient ammunition.
A Wagner employee attempted to deliver Prigozhin’s personal letter to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Saturday, but was unsuccessful, Wagner’s press service said in a separate Telegram post. The letter referred to what Prigogine says was the poor performance of regular troops on Wagner’s flanks.
Zelensky. Russia will “feel” counter-offensive
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is in Rome on an official visit, did not directly answer the question of when the counterattack will begin.
“I cannot answer this question, but you will see the results and Russia will feel them,” he told Italian television.
The situation in Bakhmut was raised elsewhere on the continent on Saturday, when European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Josep Borel called on EU members to speed up the supply of ammunition to Ukraine.
Borrell said Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba told his EU counterparts at a meeting in Stockholm that Kiev needed more support to defend itself against Russian encroachment.
“Ukraine needs about 1,000 artillery pieces a day,” Borrell told reporters after the meeting, around the eastern battlefield city of Bakhmut.
Fighting in and around Bakhmut recently claimed the lives of two Canadians, both serving with the Ukrainian International Legion.
Ukraine’s broader struggle against Russia’s large-scale incursions into its borders is now in its 15th month.