- Keef describes the situation of Soledar as difficult
- There are no visible signs of casualties in the Russian garrison
- Zelensky says Russia will attack despite ceasefire announcement
KIEV/KRAMATORSK, Ukraine, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Ukraine is bolstering its forces in the eastern Donbass region, repelling ongoing attacks on Bakhmut and other towns there by the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Ukrainian officials said on Monday.
They said reinforcements had been sent to Soldar, a small town near Bakhmut where the situation was particularly difficult.
“The enemy once again made a desperate attempt to attack the city of Soldar from different directions and engaged the most professional units of Wagner,” the Ukrainian military said in a statement.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in video remarks overnight Sunday that Bakhmut and Soldar were still going strong despite widespread destruction.
“Our troops are repelling continuous Russian attempts to advance,” he said. In Soledar “things are very difficult”.
In northern Kharkiv region, a Russian missile attack on a local market injured seven civilians, including a 13-year-old girl, the Regional Center for Emergency Medical Assistance said.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group, which has been trying for months to capture Bakhmut and Soldar in pitched battles that have claimed many lives on both sides, said on Saturday that the importance lay in the network of mines there.
Not only can it (hold) a large group of people at a depth of 80 to 100 meters, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move.
Military analysts say the strategic military benefits for Moscow will be limited. An American official has said that the Wagner Group is eyeing salt and gypsum mines there.
Serhi Chervati, a spokesman for the Eastern Command of Ukraine, said he thought the situation could be stabilized.
“There are brutal and bloody battles there – 106 shellings in one day,” he said on Ukrainian television.
Our forces in Soledar have been allocated additional forces and equipment for this purpose and everything is being done to improve the operational situation there.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm the battlefield reports.
No Christmas truce
Zelensky recently condemned what he described as Russia’s failure to honor a ceasefire it had announced for Russian Orthodox Christmas on Friday and Saturday.
Ukraine never agreed to the ceasefire and called it an excuse for Russia to build up its forces. Both sides accused each other of continuing hostilities throughout the period.
“The Russians shelled Kherson immediately after Christmas with incendiary munitions,” he said, referring to the southern city that was abandoned by Russian forces in November.
Attacks on Kramatorsk and other Donbas cities – on civilian targets, just as Moscow was reporting a supposed “quiet” for its military.
On Sunday, Russia said a missile attack on Kramatorsk, northwest of Bakhmut, killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers, but a Reuters reporter found no visible signs of casualties at the scene.
A Reuters team visited two college dormitories that Moscow said were temporarily housing Ukrainian personnel in retaliation for the New Year attack that killed scores of Russian soldiers and sparked protests in Russia was targeted.
But none of the dormitories in the eastern city of Kramatorsk appear to have been directly damaged or seriously damaged. There were no obvious signs of soldiers living there, and no sign of corpses or blood.
Serhi Chervati, spokesman for the Ukrainian military for the eastern region, described the claim of massive casualties as an attempt by the Russian Defense Ministry to demonstrate a firm response to Ukraine’s recent attacks on Russian soldiers.
“This is an intelligence operation of the Russian Defense Ministry,” Chervati told Ukrainian television Suspilne News.
As Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine approaches a year old, the Russian military is under domestic pressure to succeed on the battlefield.
Hawkeye voices have sought to intensify the war effort after setbacks such as the loss of captured territory and high death and injury rates.
Some prominent Russian military bloggers have criticized the Russian Defense Ministry’s claims.
“Let’s talk about ‘fraud,'” wrote one prominent pro-war military blogger on the Telegram messaging app, who posts under the name Military Whistleblower and has more than half a million subscribers.
“It is not clear to us who and for what reason decided that 600 Ukrainian soldiers died inside the house, if the building was not really hit (even the lights remained on).
“Instead of the actual destruction of enemy personnel, which would have been the appropriate response, an exclusively media-driven retaliatory operation was devised.”
The Russian and Ukrainian militaries have often overstated enemy casualties while downplaying their own.
About 760 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded in two attacks on Moscow-controlled areas in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, senior Ukrainian military officials said last week. These reports cannot be independently verified.
Report of Reuters offices; By Lincoln Fast and Philippa Fletcher. Edited by Lisa Schumacher, and Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graff
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.