Zelenskyy says destroyed Bakhmut 'only in our hearts' - but denies Russian victory

Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bakhmut is not occupied by opposition forces and added that Russia 'will feel' when there is a counter offensive - Natalia Jorquera reports

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Bakhmut is so badly destroyed that it is “only in our hearts”, but denied Russia's claims the embattled eastern city had fallen.

Despite Moscow's insistence that eastern Ukrainian city had been taken, on Sunday Mr Zelenskyy told a press conference Bakhmut is not occupied by Russia as of today.

Asked whether the battle for the city was still ongoing and whether its defence was worth all the lives that have been lost, he said: “We don’t have simple questions any more, as well as we don’t have simple answers.

"Because we have a very complicated neighbour, who is a criminal and terrorist, a complicated enemy.

“We are keeping young, fighting thanks to the courage of our people, our warriors, and thanks to our cleverness. We are not throwing people to die.”

He added: “Bakhmut is not occupied by Russian Federation as of today. There are no two or three interpretations of those words.”

ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports from Chasiv Yar, close to Bakhmut

The fog of war made it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground in the invasion’s longest battle, and comments from Ukrainian and Russian officials added confusion to the matter.

Mr Zelenskyy's response in English to a question earlier at the summit on Sunday about the status of Bakhmut was interpreted by some as saying the city had fallen to Russian forces.

When asked if the city was in Ukraine’s hands, he said: “I think no, but you have to understand that there is nothing, they’ve destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It’s a pity. It’s tragedy.” “But, for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts," he added.

His press secretary later clarified those comments did not mean Ukraine has lost control of the city.

The Russian defence ministry said that the city was taken by forces of the Wagner private army with the support of Russian troops.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied Russia has taken control of Bakhmut. Credit: AP

Mr Zelenskyy’s comments came as Mr Biden announced $375 million (£300 million) more in aid for Ukraine, which included more ammunition, artillery, and vehicles.

The eight-month battle for Bakhmut is the longest and probably most bloody of the conflict in Ukraine.

Analysts said that any potential Russian victory in Bakhmut - if true - would be unlikely to turn the tide in the war.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy Credit: AP

The Russian capture of the last remaining ground in Bakhmut would not be "tactically or operationally significant”, a Washington-based think tank said in response to reports the city had fallen.

The Institute for the Study of War said that taking control of these areas “does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations”, nor to “defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks.”

Russian state news agencies cited the Kremlin's press service as saying President Vladimir Putin “congratulates the Wagner assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces units.”

In a video posted earlier on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control at about midday on Saturday.

He spoke flanked by about a half dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance.

It isn't clear which side has paid a higher price in the battle for Bakhmut so far.

Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers.

Mr Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally support for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptable compromises.

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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