Russia appears set to take full control of the Donbass city of Artyomovsk, which Ukraine calls Bakhmut, according to officials, media reports and the boss of the private military company Wagner Group.
“Wagner is pushing forward for real, day and night,” acting head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
He acknowledged that the situation remained tense and that the Ukrainian military was sending reserves into battle, but described the full capture of the city by Russia as “potentially very close.”
Russia’s recent advances were also confirmed by German newspaper Bild on Wednesday. It reported that Ukrainian forces were in control of around 20 buildings in the west of Artyomovsk, or 1% of the city’s total area.
The article claimed that pro-Ukrainian media operatives were engaged in damage control ahead of the imminent loss of the city, which President Vladimir Zelensky declared a fortress several months ago. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military hopes to push back on the flanks, putting Wagner troops at a disadvantage after they fully seize the settlement.
The head of the company, Evgeny Prigozhin, expressed concern about the tactics in a statement on Thursday, in which he urged regular troops supporting his unit “to hold on as hard as you can for a few more days,” complaining about a setback at one location to the north of Artyomovsk.
Wagner troops have been on the forefront of the battle, which has been underway for some eight months, becoming one of the bloodiest episodes of the wider armed conflict in Ukraine. Earlier in the week, Kiev claimed to have turned the tide, but its reported momentum apparently did not last.
The Zelensky government has attached a symbolic significance to the standoff in Artyomovsk and rejected the advice of Western officials, who urged the president to pull back troops and prepare for a counteroffensive. The Ukrainian military reportedly lost some of its most experienced troops as it clung to the city, while its promised major pushback against Russia has so far failed to materialize.