Ukraine war: Bakhmut ‘not occupied’ by Russia, says defiant Zelensky
Volodymyr Zelensky, a defiant, has insisted Bakhmut is “not occupied” by Russia following a claim of control made by mercenary groups backed by Moscow.
The Ukrainian president spoke during his scene-stealing trip to Hiroshima for the G7 Summit.
Wagner founder Yevgeny Prgozhin claimed victory earlier in Bakhmut.
According to BBC, Ukrainian military sources said that they still controlled a few buildings on the city’s outskirts.
Zelensky, at a final-day press conference of the summit, refused to give any details. He said that the city where the longest and bloodiest war battle has been raging since August was “not occupied by Russia as of today”.
After earlier confusion over his remarks about the status of the town, he said: “There is no way to interpret those words.”
In a video that was posted on Saturday, Wagner’s Mr. Prigozhin said his fighters – who led the Russian assault against Bakhmut – were in complete control of the town.
Mr. Zelensky compared Bakhmut to Hiroshima, which was hit by an atomic bomb in World War Two, promising a similar “reconstruction” of his country.
On Sunday, he visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park together with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishhida. The United States dropped a bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.
Mr. Zelensky laid a wreath for those who were killed in the attack.
After a meeting with Mr. Kishida, he strode into an auditorium at the peace park to speak to reporters.
As he entered, one journalist shouted from the back of the room: “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine). Mr. Zelensky nodded to acknowledge her.
He drew several parallels between Hiroshima and Ukraine, saying that pictures of the Japanese city in ruins after the bombing reminded him of present-day Bakhmut. He vowed there would be a similar “reconstruction and recovery” of Ukraine.
“Now Hiroshima has rebuilt their city, and we dream of rebuilding our cities,” he said.
There had earlier been some confusion about the status of Bakhmut after Mr. Zelensky said “Today Bakhmut is only in our hearts”.
His office later clarified that he had not said that the city had fallen.
But Russian fighters at least control most of Bakhmut. Wagner mercenaries have concentrated their efforts there for months, and their relentless, costly tactic of sending in waves of men seems to have gradually eroded Kyiv’s resistance.
Ukrainian forces have resisted calls for a tactical withdrawal to this point, but say that if they did pull out it would be a “Pyrrhic victory” for the Russians.
Mr. Zelensky also alluded to his troops continuing to carry out “important work” in the area.
A top Ukrainian general later said Kyiv’s forces were making advances on the outskirts of Bakhmut and were getting closer to a “tactical encirclement” of the city.
Analysts say that Bakhmut is of little strategic value to Moscow, but its capture would be a symbolic victory for Russia after the longest battle of the war in Ukraine so far.
However, when Russia fought fiercely to claim the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk last summer, Ukraine soon reclaimed swathes of territory elsewhere.
It will no doubt be hoping to use a similar strategy for an anticipated counter-offensive this year.
The war in Ukraine has dominated the three-day summit of G7 leaders in Japan, with Mr. Zelensky meeting with several world leaders to lobby for more support.
His persistence paid off. At the summit, the US announced it would allow its Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter jets, including American-made F-16s.
However, as yet no country has committed to supplying the jets to Ukraine.
Asked by the BBC how confident he was about getting F-16s from his allies, Mr. Zelensky said: “We will be working on that, I’m sure… I cannot tell you how many – this is not a secret, we really don’t know.”
The BBC also asked him when his delayed spring counter-offensive would begin.
“Russia will feel when we have a counter-offensive,” he replied.