On Saturday, mercenaries from the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group claimed victory in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a fierce battle that lasted eight months. For the most part, the pro-Moscow camp rejoiced at the final removal of hard-line Ukrainian defenders.
Although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied on Sunday that Bakhmut had fallen, Russian businessman and Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed otherwise in a voice memo to his 420,000 Telegram followers.
“There is not a single Ukrainian soldier in the village of Bakhmut, for the reason that we stopped taking prisoners,” he declared.
“There are many dead bodies of the military in Ukraine. Bakhmut was completely removed from all its legal borders, down to the last centimeter. Vladimir Alexandrovich [Zelenskyy] dishonest, or he, like our military leaders, does not really know what is happening on the ground.
Through a statement in the official press service of the Kremlin, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin congratulated the Russian army and mercenary group Wagner on the capture of Artemovsk, as the city was known during the Soviet era and until 2016 .
Footage on Russian TV and Telegram channels showed the Russian flag waving from the roof of an apartment building still standing amid the ruins of Bakhmut.
“Without exaggeration, a historic moment – Wagner fighters raised the Russian flag, and the flag of their company, on the last road to Artemovsk,” Amir Yusupov, a journalist stationed on the front line , reports for the state-owned Channel. In a
“The city has been emptied … Many would have left at the end of their contract, but everyone stayed.”
A masked mercenary interviewed on camera compares the experience to World War II.
“How can I leave the youth?” he asked. “I had to see this moment. These may be the same emotions that our grandfathers felt in Berlin.”
The Wagner Orchestra, a Telegram channel that describes itself as “fans” of the mercenary outfit, published a video of bearded commander Alexander “Ratibor” Kuznetsov raising Russian and Wagner flags in the wreck city and shouted ethnic slurs at Ukrainians, telling them to “go away!”
Another video on the channel showed a group of Wagner fighters triumphantly firing their weapons into the air while a Wagner flag waved in the background.
An article by state-owned news agency RIA Novosti on the “liberation of Artemovsk” blamed Ukrainian forces for any civilian casualties.
“Before the conflict started, more than seventy thousand people lived here,” it read.
“Many have left the city. According to the refugees, Ukrainian soldiers deliberately opened fire on civilians.”
The article asserts that, despite Ukrainian propaganda, the “fort Bakhmut” has in fact fallen, allowing Russian forces to move into the nearby town of Chasiv Yar.
“This is a victory, one of the closest to the main victory,” Andrey Medvedev, a former journalist and politician in Moscow, wrote in Telegram.
“The road we still have to walk is long and difficult, and we still have a long way to go. There are failures and disappointments. There are days of dark despair and unbelief. But in those days we can only remember Bakhmut … Glory to the Russian soldier!”
Not a tactical victory
Despite Moscow’s claims of victory, Igor Girkin, nom de guerre Strelkov, is a former Russian soldier and intelligence officer who led the original 2014-15 separatist uprising. in eastern Ukraine, painting an even darker picture of his nearly 800,000 Telegram subscribers.
He described the capture of Bakhmut as not a victory in any tactical sense, but part of the Kremlin’s policy of “freezing the conflict through a compromise agreement”, and thus, only seeking to weaken the enemy until Kyiv and its Western allies agree. to let Russia keep Crimea and the Donbas. Strelkov is a hardline Russian nationalist who believes that Moscow is not serious about annexing Ukraine.
“In general, the operation ended in a strategic failure of our troops,” wrote Strelkov. “The enemy has NOT been driven out of Donbas in all the main directions, in most directions – nothing has worked.”
He added that the Russian military has exhausted its stockpiles of weapons, ammunition and people “necessary for further offensive operations”.
“That’s why Bakhmut was given more attention in the last two months – it was necessary to achieve at least some results ‘for propaganda’ to ‘breathe’ afterwards. And so we won, sort of,” said Strelkov.
Strelkov also warned that the resources spent on Bakhmut, an “unnecessary” and “Pyrrhic” victory that was “not worth the effort and money spent on it”, would leave Russia vulnerable to the Ukrainian.