On Friday, Russia’s primary mercenary group, the Wagner Group, announced its plans to withdraw from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
However, Ukraine claims the fighters are reinforcing positions in an attempt to seize the city before Russia commemorates World War Two Victory Day next week.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, stated that his men had been deprived of ammunition and anticipated the army would take their place in Bakhmut by next Wednesday. This jeopardizes Russia’s long-standing goal of capturing the city in its efforts to divide Ukraine.
Prigozhin said in a video, “My lads will not suffer useless and unjustified losses in Bakhmut without ammunition.”
The withdrawal announcement, addressed to military leaders including President Vladimir Putin, blamed “bureaucrats” for withholding supplies despite knowing the group’s target capture date was May 9, the day of the World War Two commemoration.
The battle for Bakhmut, which Russia views as a stepping stone to other cities in Ukraine’s Donbas region still beyond its control, has been the most intense of the conflict, resulting in thousands of casualties on both sides over months of fierce warfare.
Ukrainian forces have been pushed back in recent weeks but continue to hold their ground in Bakhmut, inflicting as many Russian losses as possible before Kyiv’s planned major offensive against the invading forces along the 1,000 km (620 mile) front line.
Ukraine’s Armed Forces General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled over 30 attacks on the primary front-line sectors on Friday, with Bakhmut and Maryinka to the south experiencing the most intense fighting.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of Donetsk region, reported on the Telegram messaging app that Russian missiles struck a heavy machinery manufacturing plant in Kramatorsk and a home furnishing factory in Sloviansk. There were no injuries in either attack.
Both towns are situated west of the front line in and around Bakhmut. Photos and video footage from Kramatorsk show extensive damage to the machinery plant, including blown-out windows, torn-off facades, and upper floors reduced to a twisted mass of metal and other building materials.
Prigozhin’s statement said, “Because of the lack of ammunition, our losses are increasing exponentially every day.” He added that his fighters would be forced to hand over their positions in Bakhmut to defense ministry units on May 10 before retreating to logistics camps to “lick our wounds.”