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Russian Forces Advance on Key Battlefront

National

A Ukrainian soldier in a truck as the war continues on the Bakhmut front line in Donetsk, Ukraine on Jan. 8, 2023. | Image by Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

One of the Ukrainian war’s bloodiest campaigns is centered on Bakhmut and Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region, and Russian forces are still on the offensive.

Bakhmutske, a village next to Soledar, a smaller mining city about six miles northeast of Bakhmut, was controlled by Russian-backed forces as of Monday, The New York Times reported. In late summer, Ukrainian forces launched a lightning-fast offensive of their own, which drove Russian troops out of the northeast.

The heavily contested city of Bakhmut was the scene of intense fighting as well, according to Russian and Ukrainian officials on Monday. The Wagner Group, a mercenary organization at the center of Russia’s efforts there, has started using recently released inmates in its ranks, according to an official who spoke off the record to discuss operational details, The New York Times reported.

The two sides exchange several thousand rounds of artillery fire every day. Since the summer, Russian forces have attempted to occupy Bakhmut despite suffering significant territorial losses elsewhere in Ukraine.

Some influential Russian bloggers who support the invasion and closely monitor the conflict predicted on Monday that the Ukrainian front lines near Soledar and Bakhmut would soon fall. In a post on the social messaging app Telegram, well-known blogger Yuri Podolyaka said that Ukraine’s time in Soledar was “running out.”

According to Ukrainian officials, their forces successfully repelled an assault on Soledar. Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense, spoke of fierce combat with Wagner Group units. She posted on Telegram, a messaging app, that Russian fighters “literally step on the corpses of their fellow soldiers.”

“After an unsuccessful attempt to capture Soledar and retreat, the enemy regrouped their forces, replenished losses, redeployed additional assault units, changed tactics, and launched a powerful assault,” Maliar also said.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, stated in his nightly address that Soledar was the focus of Russian forces’ “greatest efforts” and that Ukraine was now subject to “new and even tougher attacks.”

Russia has suffered significant losses in the fighting. In light of this, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and the founder of the Wagner Group, orchestrated the plan to enlist prisoners to strengthen Russia’s frontline forces, according to Zelenskyy.

Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has visited remote penal colonies to give speeches to inmates, according to social media videos and accounts from prisoners’ rights activists.

High salaries, financial incentives, death and disability benefits, and, perhaps most importantly for some, freedom after six months of service are all mentioned in the speeches intended to entice inmates. Russia Behind Bars, the largest prisoners’ rights group in the country, reported that Wagner has signed up at least 35,000 prisoners since June.

Prigozhin refuted “fake” media reports on Monday that Russian troops from various military units were engaged in a bloody battle over the town of Soledar, which Russia has been attempting to annex since the summer.

“I’d like to emphasize that Soledar is being taken solely by Wagner units,” Prigozhin said.

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