According to Mikhail Podoliak, a senior adviser to President Vladimir Zelensky, Ukraine is planning to retake the strategic city of Artyomovsk, also referred to as Bakhmut. This statement was made in response to Evgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company, claiming that his fighters had gained full control of the city.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed in the early hours of Sunday that Wagner had executed the operation with the help of regular troops. Podoliak, however, insisted that the Russians were exhausted by the fighting.
“What will Russia do next, even if it captures two more [city] blocks? With what forces will they proceed, and where, and why?” Podoliak said in an interview on Ukrainian TV.
“As for us, we cannot stop somewhere in the middle. Bakhmut will be liberated, just like any other Ukrainian territory,” he said.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied that the city had fallen and insisted that the fighting is still ongoing.
Podoliak claimed that Prigozhin is seeking to divert attention from Zelensky’s overseas tour of several European countries, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. The Ukrainian leader attended the Arab League summit in Jeddah on Friday and the G7 meeting in Hiroshima the next day.
The news of the fall of Artyomovsk also comes as Ukraine gears up for its much-touted counteroffensive. Officials in Kiev repeatedly stressed that its timing and success would depend on weapons deliveries from the West.
Zelensky promised last month that Ukrainian soldiers would not leave Artyomovsk because the retreat would “give Russian troops and Wagner a chance to capture more of our land.” The city itself has been largely destroyed by months of intense warfare.