- Zelenskiy says there are no more walls in Soledar
- Wagner Group sending waves of fighters, Ukraine says
- Fight for cavernous salt mining tunnels under the city
KYIV/SIVERSK, Ukraine, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Russia has stepped up a powerful attack on Soledar in eastern Ukraine, officials said in Kyiv, forcing Ukrainian troops to repel waves of attacks by Wagner’s contract militia around the salt mining town and nearby fronts.
Soledar, in the industrial Donbass region, is a few kilometers from Bakhmut, where troops on both sides have suffered heavy casualties in one of the most intense trench warfare since Russia invaded Ukraine there. almost 11 months old.
Ukrainian forces repelled an earlier attempt to take the city, but large numbers of Wagner Group units quickly returned, deploying new tactics and more soldiers under heavy artillery cover, the Ukrainian deputy minister said on Monday. of Defense, Hanna Malyar, on the Telegram messaging application.
“The enemy is literally stepping over the corpses of its own soldiers, using massive artillery, MLRS systems and mortars,” Malyar said.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not mention either Soledar or Bakhmut during a regular press briefing on Monday, a day after it came under fire for an apparently false allegation of a missile strike on a Ukrainian temporary barracks.
Wagner was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Drawing recruits from Russian prisons and known for his uncompromising violence, he is active in conflicts in Africa and played a leading role in Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.
Prigozhin has been trying to capture Bakhmut and Soledar for months at the cost of many lives on both sides. He said on Saturday that its significance lay in a network of cavernous mining tunnels under the ground, which can hold large groups of people as well as tanks and other war machines.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said the fighting in Bahkmut and Soledar is “the most intense of the entire front line”, with little progress either side in freezing conditions.
“So many (pro-Russian fighters) remain on the battlefield… dead or wounded,” he said on YouTube.
“They attack our positions in waves, but the wounded usually die on the spot, either from exposure because it is very cold, or from loss of blood. No one comes to help them or pick up the dead on the battlefield.”
Reuters could not immediately verify reports from the battlefield.
NO INTACT BUILDINGS
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in overnight video remarks on Monday that Bakhmut and Soledar were holding on despite the widespread destruction.
He cited new, fiercer attacks at Soledar, where he said no walls were left standing and the ground was covered in Russian corpses.
“Thanks to the resilience of our soldiers in Soledar, we have won additional time and additional forces for Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said. He did not specify what he meant by gaining time or force.
But Ukrainian officials, led by Commander-in-Chief General Valery Zaluzhniy, have warned that Russia is preparing new troops for a major new offensive on Ukraine, possibly on the capital Kyiv.
Zelenskiy also appears to be banking on obtaining more sophisticated weaponry from Ukraine’s western partners to repel attacks and possibly expel Russian troops.
On Monday, he continued his diplomatic efforts by addressing Petr Fiala, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, current President of the European Union at 27.
“I’m sure our soldiers at the front will get these weapons and equipment. Very soon,” he said.
France, Germany and the United States all pledged last week to send armored fighting vehicles, in response to a long-standing Ukrainian request. Britain plans to supply tanks to Ukraine for the first time, Sky News reported, citing a Western source. The UK Ministry of Defense had no comment.
Iran may be contributing to war crimes in Ukraine by supplying drones to Russia, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday.
The United States imposed sanctions on companies and individuals it accused of producing or transferring Iranian drones used by Russia. The White House said last week it was considering ways to target Iranian production of armed unmanned aircraft through sanctions and export controls.
Military analysts say the strategic military advantage for Russia from capturing Bakhmut and Soledar would be limited.
Taras Berezovets, a Ukrainian journalist, political commentator and Ukrainian army officer, said capturing Soledar made little sense except as a personal victory for Prigozhin, but it would be easier to take than Bakhmut.
“It’s his personal war,” Berezovets said on YouTube.
A US official said Prigozhin was monitoring salt and gypsum from the mines, which are believed to extend more than 100 miles underground and contain caverns the scale of an auditorium.
Berezovets said Ukrainian troops fighting in Bakhmut and Soledar say attacks come in waves of small groups, no more than 15, with the first wave usually wiped out. Pro-Russian forces dug in and left white ribbons for the next wave to follow.
“The complexity of the fighting in towns like Bakhmut and Soledar makes it difficult to determine who is with you and who is the enemy,” he said.
At an evacuation center near Kramatorsk, Olha, 60, said she fled Soledar after moving from apartment to apartment as each was destroyed in tank battles.
“There is no longer a single house intact. The apartments were burning, breaking in two,” said Olha, who gave only his first name.
Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Frank Jack Daniel, Doina Chiacu and Michael Perry; Editing by Grant McCool, Lincoln Feast and Himani Sarkar
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