Ukraine rejected the claim, saying heavy fighting continued in the city and described the situation there as ‘critical’.
Russian private army chief Wagner said his fighters had completed the capture of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, but Kyiv immediately rejected the claim and said fighting was still ongoing.
Yevgeny Prigozhin made the claim in a video on Saturday in which he appeared in combat fatigues in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner flags.
“Today, at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken,” Prigozhin said. “We completely took over the entire city, from house to house.
“The operation to capture Bakhmut – the Bakhmut meat grinder – lasted 224 days,” he said.
But Ukraine on Saturday said it retained some ground control in the eastern town of Bakhmut, where fighting continues and the situation is “critical”.
“Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar posted on Telegram. He said that Ukrainian troops “hold the defense” in the “Airplane area” of the city.
“Currently, our defenders control some industrial facilities and infrastructure in the area.”
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi told Reuters news agency: “Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”
Al Jazeera could not verify the claims.
Bakhmut has been at the center of Russia’s longest and bloodiest war in Ukraine, which is about to end its 15th month.
The war leveled the salt mining center which once had a population of approximately 70,000 people.
Distant explosions can be heard in the background as Prigozhin speaks during the video, where he says his forces will withdraw from Bakhmut from May 25 for rest and retraining, handing over control to the regular army in Russia.
Prigozhin mocked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden, who participated in the G7 summit in Japan on Saturday where the war in Ukraine was in front of world leaders.
Addressing Zelenskyy, Prigozhin said, “Now, when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of his head, say hello from me.”
Prigozhin repeated the complaints he had often made in the past that his forces were suffering heavier losses than necessary due to insufficient support and ammunition supplies from the Russian regular army.
Earlier this month he threatened to pull out of his forces after publishing a scathing rant against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu while standing in a field of corpses.
Because of the Russian bureaucracy and the “whims” of Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, “five times more men died than they should have”, he said in the video on Saturday.
“One day in history, they will pay for their actions,” Prigozhin said.
His claim of victory followed fierce fighting around the city last week in which Ukraine said it had pushed back some Russian forces.
British defense intelligence said on Saturday it was “highly likely” that Russia would send up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut sector, following Ukrainian tactical gains on the side of the city. It said it represented an “unprecedented commitment to the Russian command”.
“The Russian leadership probably continues to see the capture of Bakhmut as the key immediate war objective that will allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict,” it said on Twitter.
Prigozhin recognized that Bakhmut had no strategic significance, but it took on great symbolic importance for both sides due to the extreme intensity of the fighting and the number of losses.