Ukraine defends eastern salt mining village from Russia

Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a 2S3 Akatsiya self propelled howitzer at their position in a frontline, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 8, 2023. REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva

According to officials in Kyiv, Russia has intensified its assault on Soledar in eastern Ukraine, forcing Ukrainian troops to withstand waves of strikes spearheaded by the Wagner contract militia surrounding the salt mining town and nearby fronts.

A few miles from Bakhmut, in the industrialized Donbas region, troops on both sides have suffered considerable casualties in some of the most intensive trench combat since Russia invaded Ukraine about 11 months ago.

A substantial number of Wagner Group units swiftly returned, using new tactics and additional soldiers under solid artillery support, said Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar on the Telegram messaging app on Monday.

"The enemy step over the corpses of their soldiers, using massed artillery, MLRS systems, and mortars," Malyar stated.

During its regular media conference on Monday, the Russian Ministry of Defense did not mention Soledar or Bakhmut, a day after being criticized for an allegedly erroneous claim of a missile strike on a temporary Ukrainian barracks.

Wagner was formed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an associate of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. It is active in conflicts in Africa and has played a crucial role in Russia's military effort in Ukraine. It recruits some of its members from Russia's jails and is notorious for its brutality.

Prigozhin has spent months attempting to capture Bakhmut and Soledar at the expense of countless fatalities on both sides. He stated on Saturday that its significance lies in a network of vast underground mine tunnels that can accommodate large groups of people and tanks and other military machines.

No buildings intact

In nightly video addresses on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated that Bakhmut and Soledar were clinging on despite severe destruction. He described new and ferocious strikes at Soledar, where, according to him, no barriers remain, and the area is littered with Russian bodies.

"Thanks to the resilience of our soldiers in Soledar, we have won additional time and strength for Ukraine," said Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy did not specify what gaining time or strength meant.

However, Ukrainian officials, led by commander-in-chief General Valery Zaluzhniy, have warned that Russia is mobilizing new forces for a massive operation against Ukraine, possibly targeting the capital city of Kyiv.

Zelenskiy also counts on acquiring more modern weapons from Ukraine's Western allies to repel Russian forces.

On Monday, he continued his diplomatic efforts by chatting with Petr Fiala, the prime minister of the Czech Republic and current chairman of the European Union's 27 member states.

"I do not doubt that our frontline troops will receive these weapons and supplies. Very soon, "he said.

France, Germany, and the United States committed to providing armored battle vehicles to Ukraine last week, granting a long-standing request. Sky News claimed, citing a Western source, that Britain is considering providing tanks to Ukraine for the first time. The British Defense Ministry declined to comment.

According to military specialists, the strategic military advantage to Russia of taking Bakhmut and Soledar would be minimal.

Taras Berezovets, a Ukrainian journalist, political pundit, and officer in the Ukrainian military, stated that taking Soledar made little sense other than as a personal success for Prigozhin. Still, it would be easier to capture than Bakhmut.

Berezovets remarked on YouTube, "It's his war,"

A U.S. official stated that Prigozhin is interested in the mines' salt and gypsum, which are reported to extend over 100 miles down and feature caverns the size of auditoriums.

According to pro-Russian blogs, Prigozhin said his soldiers were fighting for the Soledar administration building.

The Ukrainian military stated reinforcements had been dispatched to the city, where the temperature on Tuesday morning was -13 degrees Celsius (8.6 F).

Waves of attack

Ukrainian troops fighting in Bakhmut and Soledar, according to Berezovets, are attacked in waves of no more than 15 individuals, with the first wave typically being wiped off. The pro-Russian forces retreat, leaving behind white ribbons for the subsequent wave.

He explained that it is difficult to distinguish who is on your side and who is the adversary in cities such as Bakhmut and Soledar.

60-year-old Olha explained in an evacuation center in adjacent Kramatorsk that she escaped Soledar after shifting from apartment to apartment as tank engagements destroyed each.

"There is not a single complete house left. Apartments were on fire and splintering in half, "Olha, who only provided her first name, stated.

Monday evening's Russian missile attack on Kramatorsk resulted in the deaths of two persons, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, an adviser to Zelenskiy, reported via Telegram.

In the village of Siversk, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north, Heorhil, a 28-year-old Ukrainian soldier, reported that Russian regular forces had replaced less-trained fighters.

"Unfortunately, both sides are suffering big losses, which also means our units have losses," he said as he stood amid snow-covered residences that had been destroyed.

Reuters was unable to confirm the reports from the battlefield independently.

Publish : 2023-01-10 08:41:00

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