On Saturday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian mercenary who heads the Wagner Group, claimed that his forces seized control over Bakhmut. The city in the eastern Donetsk region has been the site of fierce fighting for months.
"We have completely taken the whole city, from house to house. I want to say thank you, to the Russian people who supported us and to those who died in this war," he said, noting that he would give over the city to Putin's forces by May 25, according to Newsweek.
Financial Times Moscow bureau chief Max Seddon said that this should be taken "with a grain of salt."
"Prigozhin says Wagner’s forces have established full control over Bakhmut after a bloody siege that all but destroyed the city" Seddon said. "His declaration of triumph is a long rant about how Shoigu and Gerasimov were no help and Wagner mostly did it on their own."
Prigozhin released the message on his Telegram channel and claimed that he would pass control of Bakhmut into Russian military hands on May 25 while brandishing a Ukrainian flag in front of his fighters. Prigozhin said his victory came at the cost of the near destruction of the city.
In the video, Prigozhin directly addressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and said, "Today when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of his head, say hi to him from me."
Due to the number of bloody battles that have raged in the city for months as Russian forces have tried to capture the area, Bakhmut has garnered the nickname "meat grinder," the New York Post reports.
Serhiy Cherevatyi, a Ukrainian military spokesperson, offerd a counter, saying "This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut," Reuters report.
Christopher Miller, a correspondent with FT who has been covering Ukraine for more than 13 years, said that "Prigozhin is standing near the destroyed Bakhmut train station. While it's possible his forces took the last 400-yard stretch of road & destroyed buildings in the city's westernmost area, his claim of full control would be more convincing if he were standing along that stretch."
"I just spoke by phone with Serhiy Cherevatyi," Miller reported further, "military spokesman for Ukraine's eastern district. He said that while Russian forces control most of Bakhmut, fighting is ongoing on Chaikovskoho St and a handful of city blocks in the W/NW, and Wagner hasn't established full control."
Miller quoted "Ukraine’s 46th Air Assault Brigade on Bakhmut: It may just be a matter of time. "Today or tomorrow…[Russian forces] will occupy the territory of the city, or rather its ruins. Immediately after, they will face new lines of defense outside the city and problems on the flanks..."
Putin invaded Ukraine. The US has sent munitions and weapons to the country in excess of $30 billion dollars and another in excess of $50 million in humanitarian aid. Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv and pledged another $500 million in aid, on February 20.
According to the Financial Times, Serhiy Cherevatyi, a military spokesman for Ukraine's eastern district, "said that while Russian forces control most of Bakhmut, fighting is ongoing on Chaikovskoho St and a handful of city blocks in the W/NW, and Wagner hasn't established full control."