Russia takes control of strategic town of ‘underground cities’

President Volodymyr Zelensky says there is “almost no life” in a Ukrainian salt mining town that Russia is determined to capture for its strategic underground tunnels.

A Ukraine military official said Soledar, in Donbas, with its 200km network of cavernous tunnels, has become the scene of the most intense fighting “on the entire frontline”.

Britain’s defence ministry said Russia and forces of the Wagner mercenary group were probably now in control of the town of some 10,000 people after advances in the past four days.

Wagner Group’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been trying to capture Soledar and Bakmut for months at the cost of many lives on both sides.

A US official said Mr Prigozhin was eyeing the salt and gypsum from the mines, believed to extend more than 160 kilometres and contain auditorium-scale caverns.

Mr Prigozhin described the tunnels as a “network of underground cities” that could hold people 100m underground and allow tanks and vehicles to move freely.

Mr Prigozhin said the mines were “the icing on the cake”.

Ukraine fears the tunnels could be used for infiltration behind their lines.

The Wagner group draws some recruits from Russia’s prisons and is known for uncompromising violence.

It is active in conflicts in Africa and has taken a prominent role in Russia’s war effort in Ukraine.

As Ukraine sent reinforcements to defend Soledar, President Zelensky said there were “no whole walls left”.

“The whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers,” he said, adding: “This is what madness looks like.”

Soledar, in the industrial Donbas region, lies several kilometres from Bakhmut, where troops from both sides have been taking heavy losses in some of the most intense trench warfare since Russia invaded almost 11 months ago.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said fighting in Bahkmut and Soledar was “the most intense on the entire frontline”.

“So many remain on the battlefield … either dead or wounded,” he said on YouTube.

“They attack our positions in waves but the wounded as a rule die where they lie, either from exposure as it is very cold or from blood loss.

“No one is coming to help them or to collect the dead from the battlefield.”

Reuters could not immediately verify battlefield reports.

Destroyed buildings in Soledar. Photo: Getty

In an evacuee centre in nearby Kramatorsk, Olha, 60, said she had fled Soledar after moving from apartment to apartment as each was destroyed in tank battles.

“There isn’t one house left intact. Apartments were burning, breaking in half,” said Olha, who gave only her first name.

Ukrainian officials, led by the commander in chief General Valery Zaluzhniy, have warned that Russia is preparing fresh troops for a new offensive on Ukraine, possibly on the capital Kyiv.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.