Ukraine Says Russian Claims About Control Of Soledar Untrue, Fighting Continues
By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service January 11, 2023
The Ukrainian military and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy say claims by Russia's Vagner group that Russian forces have taken the eastern town of Soledar are false and fighting continues.
"The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend that part of our town of Soledar...is some sort of a Russian possession," Zelenskiy said in a video address on January 11.
"But fighting continues. The Donetsk theatre of operations is holding."
In a separate statement, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces also said fighting continues. The statement said in order to bring the entire Donetsk region under its control, the Russian military is attempting both to attack nearby Bakhmut and to disrupt supply routes to Soledar.
The General Staff said earlier the Russians were suffering heavy losses as they tried to take the salt-mining town.
The head of the mercenary Vagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on January 11 his forces had taken control of the Soledar.
"I want to confirm the complete liberation and cleansing of the territory of Soledar from units of the Ukrainian Army.... Ukrainian units that did not want to surrender were destroyed," he said in a statement.
Vagner forces "killed about 500 people," he said, adding that Soledar is littered with the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers.
Ukraine had earlier denied claims by the private Russian military group that it had taken control of the town.
"The town is not under the control of the Russian Federation. There are fierce battles going on now," Serhiy Cherevatiy, the spokesman for the eastern military command, said on Ukrainian television.
"There is a complicated situation there.... The intensity of battles near Bakhmut can be compared with World War II," he added.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said 559 civilians, including 15 children, remain in Soledar. These people had no desire to leave before Soledar was closed due to active fighting, he said on Ukrainian television.
Fewer than 8,000 people remain in Bakhmut, but evacuation is still possible, he said.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry earlier on January 11 cited "colossal losses" by Russian forces trying to capture Soledar in a sustained offensive that the ministry described as "maniacal" as the community's fate hangs in the balance.
The Russian Defense Ministry noted that paratroopers had blockaded areas north and south of Soledar, but added that fighting was ongoing inside the town.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was a "positive dynamic in advances," but quickly added that officials shouldn't "rush" to declare victory.
The Ukrainian General Staff claimed on January 11 that Russia had lost around 490 soldiers the previous day. It said those casualties raised its estimated death toll on the Russian side to nearly 113,000 troops.
Each side in the conflict has classified its casualty figures, and RFE/RL cannot corroborate accounts by either side of battlefield developments in the areas of the heaviest fighting.
Capturing Soledar and its salt mines would have symbolic, military, and commercial value for Russia and would be Moscow's most substantial gain in months.
As the battle for Soledar raged, Russia announced on January 11 that it has again replaced the commander of its forces in Ukraine.
Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov was appointed to oversee the invasion in a reshuffle announced by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Gerasimov replaces Sergei Surovikin, who will become one Gerasimov's three deputies, the ministry said.
The Ukrainian General Staff said early on January 11 that its troops had fought off Russian attacks in three eastern regions.
It also reminded Ukrainians across the country to be alert for possible long-distance air strikes, although the pace of such Russian bombing of civilian and infrastructure targets has eased since the massive bombardments at the end of December and early January.
With reporting by Reuters
Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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