Ukraine Says Russian Claims Over Soledar Control False, Fighting Continues

The Ukrainian military and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy say claims by the Russian Vagner Group that Russian forces have taken the eastern town of Soledar are false and that fighting continues.

“The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend that part of our city of Soledar…is some kind of Russian possession,” Zelenskiy said in a Jan. 11 video address.

“But the fighting continues. The Donetsk theater of operations is holding.”

In a separate statement, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine also said the fighting was continuing. According to the statement, in order to bring the entire Donetsk region under its control, the Russian army is trying to both attack nearby Bakhmut and disrupt supply routes to Soledar.

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The General Staff earlier said the Russians were suffering heavy casualties as they attempted to take the mining town.

The leader of the Vagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on January 11 that his forces had taken control of the Soledar.

“I want to confirm the complete liberation and clearing of the Soledar territory of Ukrainian army units… Ukrainian units that did not want to surrender were destroyed,” he said in a statement.

Vagner’s forces “killed about 500 people”, he said, adding that Soledar is littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukraine had previously denied claims by the Russian private military group that it had taken control of the city.

“The city is not under the control of the Russian Federation. There are fierce battles going on,” Serhiy Cherevatiy, spokesman for the Eastern Military Command, told Ukrainian television.

“There is a complicated situation there… The intensity of the battles near Bakhmut can be compared to World War II,” he added.

The Russian Ministry of Defense Noted paratroopers had blocked off areas north and south of Soledar, but added that fighting continued inside the town.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was “positive momentum in the advances” but was quick to add that officials should not “rush” to declare victory.

The Ukrainian General Staff claims on January 11 that Russia had lost about 490 soldiers the previous day. He said those losses had brought the estimated death toll on the Russian side to nearly 113,000 troops.

Each side of the conflict has ranked its casualty figures, and RFE/RL cannot corroborate either side’s accounts of the changing battlefield in areas where the fighting is most intense.

Capturing Soledar and its salt mines would have symbolic, military and commercial value for Russia and would be Moscow’s most substantial gain in months.

As the battle for Soledar raged, Russia announced on January 11 that it had once again replaced the commander of its forces in Ukraine.

Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov was appointed to oversee the invasion in a reshuffle announced by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Gerasimov rreplaces Sergei Surovikwho will become Gerasimov’s three deputies, the ministry said.

The Ukrainian General Staff said early on January 11 that his troops had repelled Russian attacks in three eastern regions.

He also reminded Ukrainians across the country to be alert to possible long-range airstrikes, although the pace of such Russian bombardment of civilian targets and infrastructure has slowed since the massive bombings in late December and early January.

The UK MoD’s Daily Intelligence Assessment of January 11 noted the announcement of a joint Russian-Belarusian tactical flight exercise in the second half of January.

Responding to lingering fears of the 10-month-old large-scale conflict spreading, the UK Ministry of Defense speculated that a new deployment of Russian aircraft in Ukraine’s northern neighbor Belarus “is probably a real exercise, rather than a preparation for any further offensive operations against Ukraine”.

Russia’s invasion was partly staged in Moscow-allied Belarus, although leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has sought to downplay his regime’s role in the conflict.

Commander of Kyiv’s defenses, Lt. Gen. Oleksiy Pavlyuk, said on January 10 that the Ukrainian army had strengthened its defensive positions north of the city and was preparing for a potential offensive across the Belarusian border. neighbor.

Amid fierce fighting in the eastern Donetsk region, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock paid a surprise visit to the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on January 10, promising to send more weapons less than a week after Berlin pledged to send infantry fighting vehicles that Ukraine had requested.

Baerbock promised additional support before leaving Kharkiv, which was hit by Russian shelling after leaving.

“The occupiers strike again,” said Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram, telling residents to stay in shelters.

Baerbock stressed that Ukrainians “should know that they can count on our solidarity and support”, adding that Germany will continue to supply weapons “which Ukraine needs to liberate its citizens who are still suffering under the terror of Russian occupation”.

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