Russia claimed Friday to have taken control of the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, which would be its first victory in months. But Ukraine denied the claim, saying fighting is ongoing. The Wagner mercenary group claimed Wednesday that it had captured the salt-mining town, but Russia's defense ministry had remained silent before the Friday announcement, Reuters reports. The group, which has been recruiting fighters from Russian prisons, has played a major role in the fighting, NBC reports.
The New York Times reports that the Institute for the Study of War think tank in Washington said Thursday that Russian forces probably control "most if not all" of Soledar, but Moscow had committed so many resources to the fight that it was "at best a Russian Pyrrhic tactical victory." The institute said Russia had "overexaggerated the importance of Soledar" and the grinding fight had contributed to "Russian forces' degraded combat power and cumulative exhaustion." White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that even if Soledad and the nearby city of Bakhmut fell to Russian forces, it would not "have a strategic impact on the war itself," the Times reports.
In his announcement, Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said the "liberation" of Soledar was "important for the continuation of offensive operations in the Donetsk region," the AP reports. He said it would allow Russian forces to cut supply lines to Bakhmut and encircle Ukrainian forces.
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Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the president of Ukraine, likened the "very difficult" fighting around Bakhmut and Soledar to the battle of Verdun, the longest battle of World War I. "The fighting has been going on for several months, but our fighters manage to hold their positions," he said, per the Guardian. "The Russians release criminals from prisons who die as soon as they reach the frontline. Their bodies are left in place, they are not even removed, there are many human losses on the Russian side, much more than ours ... but before us is a human mass that is constantly attacking, attacking, attacking." Soledar had a population of around 10,000 before the war. Ukrainian authorities say around 500 people, including 15 children, are still there, trapped by the fighting. (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)