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Ukraine mocks Russian claim to have taken Bakhmut

Ukraine forces are "on the move" and Russian forces have lost hundreds of men over 24 hours.

Ukraine forces are "on the move" and Russian forces have lost hundreds of men over 24 hours. Photo: AAP

Kyiv has scorned Russian claims to have captured eastern Bakhmut, saying its foes had raised a victory flag over “some kind of toilet” and that Ukrainian forces had repelled nearly 20 attacks along the city’s front line in the last 24 hours.

The battle for the mining city and logistics hub of Bakhmut has been one of the bloodiest of the conflict, now in its second year, with many casualties on both sides and the city largely destroyed by bombardments.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary force spearheading the siege, said on Sunday his troops had raised a Russian flag on the city-centre administrative building even though Ukrainian soldiers still held some western positions.

“From a legal point of view, Bakhmut has been taken,” said Prigozhin, who has previously made premature claims.

But Ukraine’s military said fighting was still raging around the city council building, as well as in other nearby towns.

“Bakhmut is Ukrainian and they have not captured anything and are very far from doing that,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern military command, told Reuters by telephone on Monday.

“They raised the flag over some kind of toilet. They attached it to the side of who knows what, hung their rag and said they had captured the city. Well good, let them think they’ve taken it.”

The Ukrainian armed forces General Staff said on Monday that 45 enemy attacks had been repelled in the past 24 hours, with Bakhmut at the “epicentre of operations” along with the cities of Avdiivka and Maryinka further south.

“The enemy is attempting to take under full control the city of Bakhmut,” it said on Facebook. “Ukrainian forces repelled nearly 20 enemy attacks along the front line.”

John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, told reporters in Washington that Ukraine was still fighting hard for Bakhmut, describing the battles as “quite, quite violent and quite close”.

Lying on the edge of a chunk of Donetsk province under Russian control, Bakhmut had a population of 70,000 before Moscow invaded Ukraine in February last year.

Russian forces, bogged down in a war of attrition after a series of setbacks, are seeking a victory from their winter offensive but have suffered huge casualties around Bakhmut.

Ukrainian commanders have said their own counteroffensive – backed by newly delivered Western tanks and other hardware – is not far off but have stressed the importance of holding Bakhmut and inflicting losses in the meantime.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation”, claiming Kyiv’s ties to the West posed a security threat. Kyiv and the West call the war an unprovoked assault to subdue an independent country.

Finland, which shares a 1300-kilometre border with Russia, will join NATO on Tuesday, marking the completion of a swift journey into the Western military alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,.

In response, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Russia would strengthen military capacity in its western and northwestern regions, state-owned news agency RIA reported.

In Moscow, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of organising the murder of a prominent war blogger on Sunday in a St Petersburg cafe and arrested a Russian woman shown in a police video admitting planting the bomb.

Ukraine blamed “domestic terrorism”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday paid tribute to nearly 400 residents of the village of Yahidne in north Ukraine who were held in a school basement under Russian occupation for 27 days before they were set free a year ago.

Asked about a Ukrainian counteroffensive, he said: “We will do it, and they have to know that we will do it, and they have time to go away, or we will kill them.”

– AAP

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