The head of the Russian private army Wagner has claimed his forces have taken control of the city of Bakhmut after the longest battle of the Russian invasion.
Ukrainian defence officials have denied the claims, insisting the fighting in the embattled eastern city continues.
In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control on Saturday.
He spoke flanked by about half a dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance. The Associated Press could not independently verify the location, date, or conditions under which the clip was filmed.
However, after the video appeared, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said heavy fighting was continuing.
“The situation is critical,” she said. “As of now, our defenders, control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in this area.”
Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine's eastern command, told The Associated Press that Prigozhin's claim “is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.” Fighting has raged in and around Bakhmut for more than eight months.
If Russian forces have taken control of Bakhmut, they will still face the massive task of seizing the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas. Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands in the battle for Bakhmut, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally international support.
Analysts have said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but wouldn’t prove decisive to the outcome of the war.
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