Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has refuted allegations that Bakhmut has been captured by Russia, following claims made by the leader of the Wagner group of mercenaries, CNN reported Sunday.
The mercenary chief stated that his forces had gained full control of the eastern Ukrainian city after months of intense fighting.
“The operation to capture Bakhmut lasted 224 days,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video posted to Telegram on Saturday.
Prigozhin asserted that the operation to seize Bakhmut lasted 224 days, proclaiming a definitive victory.
CNN has been unable to independently verify Prigozhin’s claim, which has been contested by the Ukrainian side.
Sergiy Nykyforov, the spokesperson for Zelensky, informed CNN that the president has denied the takeover of Bakhmut.
During his meeting with US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Japan on Sunday, Zelensky was questioned by reporters about whether Russia had captured the city.
Zelensky responded, “I believe not,” but acknowledged that little remained under Ukrainian control.
Zelensky’s press secretary later explained that the president’s response was specifically addressing a different aspect of the question.
“Reporter’s question: Russians said they have taken Bakhmut,” Sergii Nykyforov wrote on Facebook. “President’s reply: I think no.”
He added in Ukrainian: “In this way, the president denied the capture of Bakhmut.”
Russia claimed on Saturday to have fully captured the smashed eastern Ukrainian city, which if true would mark an end to the longest and bloodiest battle of the 15-month war.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar, following Russian claims to have captured the city, said: “Ukrainian troops have semi-encircled Bakhmut and will make a Russian presence there very difficult”.
“The advance of our troops in the suburbs on the flanks, which is still ongoing, makes it very difficult for the enemy to be in Bakhmut. Our troops have semi-encircled the city,” Maliar said on social media, adding that Ukrainian troops were still in control of some parts of Bakhmut.
The attack on the heavily damaged city was spearheaded by forces from the Wagner Group. Their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed earlier in the day that his troops had successfully ousted the Ukrainian forces from the final urbanized area within the city.