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Russia claims capture of Ukrainian Soledar; Kyiv says fighting continues By Reuters

©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukraine’s Army 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade fires a German Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues January 11, 2023 near Soledar, Ukraine. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo 2/5

By Pavel Polityuk

Kyiv (Reuters) – Russia said on Friday its forces had taken the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, claiming Moscow’s first major battlefield win in half a year, but Kyiv said its troops were still fighting in the city.

Reuters could not immediately review the situation in Soledar, a salt-mining town that has been the focus of relentless Russian attacks for days.

If confirmed, Russia’s capture of the city would finally give Moscow a trophy for one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war after major battlefield setbacks in the second half of 2022.

Kyiv and the West have downplayed its importance, saying Moscow sacrificed wave after wave of soldiers and mercenaries in a senseless struggle over a bombed-out wasteland, which would do little to affect the broader war except to the extent that the huge casualties on both sides have weakened workers.

“The capture of Soledar was made possible by the constant bombardment of the enemy by attack and army aircraft, missile troops and artillery by a grouping of Russian forces,” Moscow’s Defense Ministry said.

The capture of the city would allow cutting off Ukrainian supply routes to the larger nearby city of Bakhmut and trapping the remaining Ukrainian forces there, it said. Moscow has been trying to arrest Bakhmut for months.

But Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, told Reuters by phone that Soledar had not been captured: “Our units are there, the city is not under Russian control.”

A Ukrainian officer in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, also told Reuters by phone that the Russians had not fully taken the city.

“Last night the artillery fire was like hell on both sides. As far as I know, our guys managed to leave some parts (of Soledar) in an orderly manner and now (assault) groups are attacking, but we’re still holding the city. “

Ukrainian officials said Thursday more than 500 civilians were trapped in Soledar, including 15 children.

In a late-night video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked two units in Soledar, which he said were “holding their positions and inflicting significant casualties on the enemy.” He did not give any further details.


After Ukrainian forces pushed Russia into humiliating retreats for much of the second half of 2022, the front lines have barely moved for the past two months. Meanwhile, the battles for Bakhmut and Soledar became what both sides dubbed a “meat grinder” – a brutal war of attrition that claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers.

Kiev’s western allies see it as a battle for marginal gains on a stretch of front where neither side can make a major breakthrough, a sideshow to fighting further north and south where Ukraine hopes to penetrate Russian lines.

“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, there will be no strategic implications for the war itself,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:) told reporters at the White House, “and that it certainly isn’t.” I’m not going to stop or stop the Ukrainians.”

Within Russia, victory at Soledar could also bolster ultra-nationalist mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagnerian group of mercenaries, including convicts recruited from prison with promises of pardon, have focused on fighting in the area. He has complained that the regular military recognized the Battle of Soledar without mentioning its combatants.

“They constantly try to steal victory from the Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) and talk about the presence of other unknown persons just to downplay Wagner’s merits,” he lamented.


The new year brought important pledges of extra-Western weapons for Ukraine, which is looking for armaments to engage in mechanized battles against Russian tanks.

Big new weapons announcements are likely next week when US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosts other allied defense chiefs at a US air base in Germany for a meeting of the contact group set up to support Ukraine.

Last week, France, Germany and the United States pledged to send armored fighting vehicles. Discussions this week focused on the supply of main battle tanks, an important potential upgrade for Kyiv.

On Friday, Finland joined Poland in pledging to send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of a western coalition apparently assembled to deliver them.

This requires the approval of Berlin, which has been hesitant up to now, but has recently signaled its willingness to do so. A German government spokesman said on Friday that Berlin has not yet received a formal application for permission to re-export the tanks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24 and said Kiev’s ties to the West threaten Russia’s security, and Russia has since claimed to have annexed four Ukrainian provinces. Ukraine and its allies are calling it an unprovoked war to win territory, and Kyiv says it will fight until it reclaims all of its land.