Mercenaries have started withdrawing from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after a bloody battle lasting longer than 10 months, Wagner’s boss has announced.
Yevgeny Prigozhin has vowed to transfer control of the regional transport and logistics hub in the Donetsk Oblast to the Russian army by June 1.
Footage shared on Telegram showed Vladimir Putin’s ally in the mostly levelled city as he made the announcement.
‘We are withdrawing the units from Bakhmut. From today at 5am, May 25, until June 1, most of them will rebase to camps in the rear,’ he said standing beside a shelled block of flats.
‘We are handing our positions to the military.’
Many expect Ukraine to launch the highly-anticipated spring counteroffensive, potentially threatening the gains in the city and other frontline areas.
But the warlord added that its forces would be ready to return to the area the regular army struggled to control it.
Prigozhin first announced the capture of the city on Saturday – a win for Russia that analysts argue has little strategic value.
But Ukraine has still not conceded that Bakhmut has fallen in the hands of the enemy.
Deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said earlier today that Russian soldiers have replaced Wagner units in the outskirts of the city, but added that fighters remain inside.
She stressed that Ukrainian forces still have a foothold in the city’s southwestern outskirts.
According to presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak, the counteroffensive is already underway.
He said that it should not be anticipated as a ‘single event’ starting ‘at a specific hour of a specific day with a solemn cutting of a red ribbon’.
In a statement on Twitter, he official added: ‘These are dozens of different actions to destroy the Russian occupation forces in different directions, which have already been taking place yesterday, are taking place today and will continue tomorrow.
‘Intensive destruction of enemy logistics is also a counteroffensive.’
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