UK claims Russia has seized control of town in Eastern Ukraine amid ‘bloodbath’

In the last four days, Russian troops and the mercenary Wagner Group, according to the UK, have advanced.

TOPSHOT - This grab taken from AFP video footage shows a member of Ukraine's military looking away as a BM-21'Grad' MLRS 122mm rocket launcher fires on the outskirts of Soledar on January 11, 2023. - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said fighting is still raging in a key eastern frontline city that a Russian mercenary group earlier said it controlled, as Moscow announced a new military commander in Ukraine. The fate of Soledar in eastern Ukraine was uncertain after Russian group Wagner claimed it controlled the gateway town -- but the Kremlin cautioned against declaring victory prematurely. (Photo by Arman SOLDIN / AFP)

After a protracted conflict with Ukrainian forces, the majority of the salt-mining town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine is “possibly” now under Russian control, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Soledar is close to Bakhmut, the scene of another violent conflict with Ukraine.

According to President Zelensky, Soledar had “no full walls left” and “virtually no life.”

He added, “the whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers”.

“This is what madness looks like,” he added.

Soledar, which prior to the conflict had a population of about 10,000, may be considered primarily as a stepping stone to seizing Bakhmut, and its strategic worth is debatable.

The founder of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, wants ownership of the region’s significant salt and gypsum mines, a US official claimed last week.

The 200 km long abandoned tunnels were the scene of some fighting, according to the UK, and both Russia and Ukraine “are likely concerned that they could be exploited for infiltration behind their lines.”

Mr. Prigozhin has acknowledged his interest in the mines, referring to them as “the icing on the cake” for the Bakhmut region’s strategic importance.

He called them a “network of underground cities” that can accommodate “a large group of people at a depth of 80-100 metres” and also provide the unrestricted movement of tanks and other military vehicles.

Due to Ukraine’s “solid defence lines,” Russia is “unlikely” to soon seize Bakhmut, according to Britain.

Soledar is currently in Russian hands, according to a senior military officer from the US Department of Defense. 

Since Bakhmut has been the scene of fighting for months, the US source referred to the most recent exchanges as “savage.”

Two British nationals who were last spotted travelling to Soledar have suddenly disappeared in the area.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, thanked the soldiers protecting Soledar in his evening address, adding that their tenacity “won additional time and additional strength for Ukraine.”

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces posted on Facebook that on Monday, soldiers thwarted attacks near 13 populated centres, including Soledar and Bakhmut.

Soledar has suffered 86 artillery strikes in the previous 24 hours, according to Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern army.

He asserted that Wagner was utilising his best fighters and that Russia was employing strategies similar to those used in World War One despite suffering significant losses.

“This is basically not a 21st Century war,” he said.

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