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Ukraine War: Wagner Says Bakhmut Transfer to Russian Army Underway



Yevgeny Prigozhin talks to Wagner soldiers in Bakhmut

The leader of the Russian Wagner mercenary group has announced that its forces have begun to withdraw from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Yevgeny Prigozhin has promised to hand over control of the city to the Russian army by June 1, but Kiev says it still controls pockets of the city.

He said his forces were ready to return if the Russian regular army proved unable to handle the situation.

The battle for the city has been the longest and bloodiest of the war.

Wagner mercenaries have led the fighting there for the Russian side, and Mr Prigozhin said this week that 20,000 of its fighters had died in Bakhmut.

“We are withdrawing units from Bakhmut today,” Mr Prigozhin said in a video posted on Telegram from the destroyed city.

BBC Verify has geolocated the video to an area near a pharmacy in the eastern part of Bakhmut.

Sir. Prigozhin – who announced the capture of the city on Saturday – is seen telling his men to leave ammunition for the Russian army. He adds that some Wagner fighters will stay behind to help Russian troops.

“The moment the military is in a tough situation, they will rise up,” he says, before warning two fighters not to “bully the military.”

The Wagner chief has repeatedly attacked top Russian officials and publicly criticized them for not supporting his troops. Last month he even threatened to pull his troops out of the city if they didn’t get much-needed ammunition.

Despite Wagner’s claims to hand over Bakhmut, Ukraine has not admitted that the city has fallen.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said Thursday that its forces still control part of the Litak district in the southwest of the city.

“The enemy has replaced Wagner units in the suburbs with regular army troops. Inside the city itself, Wagner forces are still present,” she wrote on Telegram.

Analysts say Bakhmut is of little strategic value to Moscow, but its capture would be a symbolic victory for Russia after the war’s longest battle in Ukraine so far.

Wagner mercenaries have been concentrating their efforts on the city for months, and their relentless, costly tactics of sending in waves of men appear to have gradually eroded Kiev’s resistance.

Sir. Prigozhin has emerged as a key player in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, launched in February 2022, in charge of the private army of mercenaries.

He recruited thousands of convicted criminals from prison into his group – no matter how serious their crimes – as long as they agreed to fight for Wagner in Ukraine.

About half of the 20,000 Wagner fighters who died in Bakhmut were convicts, Prigozhin said this week.

Earlier this month, the United States said it believed more than 20,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in the battle for Bakhmut and another 80,000 wounded. The BBC is unable to independently verify the figures.

The capture of Bakhmut would bring Russia slightly closer to its goal of controlling the entire Donetsk region, one of four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine that were annexed by Russia last September after referendums that were widely condemned outside Russia as a sham.

But as Russia fought fiercely to claim the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk last summer, Ukraine soon reclaimed swaths of territory elsewhere.

About 70,000 people lived in Bakhmut before the invasion, but only a few thousand remain in the ruined city, once best known for its salt and gypsum mines and vast vineyard.

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