Moscow/Hiroshima, May 21 (EFE).- President Vladimir Putin on Sunday congratulated Russian troops for taking control of Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine that Moscow has been trying to capture since August.
A Kremlin statement said Putin “congratulates the Wagner assault groups, as well as all the servicemen of the Russian Army units who provided them with the necessary support and flank protection, with the end of the operation for the liberation of Artyomovsk,” using the Russian name for Bakhmut.
The Russian defense ministry also confirmed “the liberation of Artyomovsk” following “offensive actions of Wagner assault groups with support of artillery and aviation of the Southern grouping of the Russian Army.”
The announcements come the day after the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had posted a video on Telegram claiming that his forces had taken control of the besieged city.
Kyiv quickly denied that its forces had abandoned the town, with deputy defense minister Hannay Malyar insisting that “heavy fighting” continued, although she admitted that “the situation is critical.”
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was meeting with world leaders, including US president Joe Biden, at the G7 in Japan this weekend, said Sunday he did not think that Bakhmut had been lost when a reporter told him “the Russian say they have taken” the city.
“I think no, but you have to understand that there is nothing – they destroyed everything, there are no buildings,” Zelenskyy said. “There is nothing in this place. Just drones and a lot of dead Russians.”
He also expressed his gratitude to Ukrainian soldiers who have fought in Bakhmut, which before the war was home to about 80,000 people.
“Our defenders in Bakhmut did a strong job and, of course, we appreciate the great work they have done,” the Ukrainian leader said.
During their meeting, Biden announced another round of military aid, with a senior US official later telling Efe that the assistance amounted to US$375 million and includes weapons that Washington has already sent to Ukraine such as artillery, ammunition, armored vehicles and high-mobility artillery rockets (Himars).
“The United States continues to help Ukraine respond, recover, and rebuild,” the US president said, adding that Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” was “non-negotiable.”
Since the start of the war, the United States has given Ukraine $36.9 billion in military assistance, according to Pentagon data.
Zelenskyy thanked Biden and the American people for their continued support, and praised the “strong relations” between their two countries that allow them to face these challenges “shoulder to shoulder.”
Zelenskyy arrived Saturday in the Japanese city of Hiroshima for the G7 summit, a visit that he hoped would boost military support from Ukraine’s Western allies and help him engage with countries like Brazil and India, who have refused to align themselves with the West, having maintained trade with Russia and refused to explicitly condemn Moscow for the invasion.
Later on Sunday, the Ukrainian president visited the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima, where he paid tribute to the victims of the nuclear attack in 1945. EFE