KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian troops have staged an organized retreat from a town in the eastern Donbas region in a rare but modest battlefield victory for Russia, an official said Wednesday It comes after a series of setbacks in an invasion that began about 11 months ago.
Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army in the east, told The Associated Press that Ukrainian troops withdrew from the salt mining town of Soledar to “protect the lives of personnel.”
Soldiers retreated to previously prepared defensive positions, he said. About two weeks ago, Russia claimed that its troops had captured Soledar, which Ukraine denies.
Moscow has described the capture of the town not far from the city of Bahmut in Donetsk province as key to seizing the entire Donbass region of Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for nearly nine years and have taken over Russia’s all-out campaign. Controlled some territorial invasions before attacking.
Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the safety of ethnic Russians living in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province as a reason for the invasion. In late September, Putin illegally annexed the Ukrainian province and two others.
The withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Soledar brought Russian forces closer to Bakhmut, but military analysts say the capture of the town was more symbolic than strategic.fighting in eastern ukraine It has been largely stalemate for months.
The Ukrainian military says its tight defenses of Soledar and Bakhmut help keep Russian troops at bay.
Many of the Russian troops around Soledar belong to the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, and the fighting has reportedly been bloody.
Since its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has prioritized taking full control of Donbass, where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia occupies most of Lugansk, but about half of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control.
Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on state television: “Russia has not reduced its fighting activity in the Donbass, but has left a scorched earth where Russian troops have managed to advance. .”
Control of Soledad could allow Russian forces to cut off supply lines for Bakhmut’s Ukrainian forces, although the strength of the new Ukrainian defensive positions is unclear.
The Institute for War Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said earlier this month that Soledar’s fall did not mark “a significant operational development and is unlikely to herald an imminent Russian siege of Bakhmut”.
The institute said Russia’s information operations had “overstated the importance” of Soledar, a small settlement. It also believes that the long and difficult battle has exhausted the Russian army.
Perhaps more worrying for Moscow, Western military aid to Ukraine is now being ramped up, including the delivery of tanks.
Elsewhere, Russian forces continue to bomb Ukrainian regionsespecially in the south and east.
Russian airstrikes in eastern Donetsk province on Tuesday wounded 10 civilians, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Five people were injured when Russian shells hit the apartment building, he said.
From Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, Russian forces launched four missile strikes, 26 airstrikes and more than 100 rocket salvos, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said.
In addition to Donetsk, the Russian strikes hit Kharkiv and Sumy in the northeast of the country, Chernigov in the north, Luhansk in the extreme east, Zaporozhye in the southeast and Settlements in Kherson province.
Russia shelled a grocery store in the city of Bereslav in Kherson province on Wednesday, killing two people and wounding three, according to an online statement from the regional government.
On Tuesday, the Russian shelling included 12 attacks on the regional capital, also known as Kherson, damaging a maternity hospital, a school, a clinic, port buildings and residential buildings, the statement said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyywho was a professional comedian and actor before his election in 2019 and has become an internationally recognized wartime leaderturned 45 on Wednesday, 11 months after Russia invaded his country.
His wife, Olena Zelenska, the first lady, said that while he was the same person she met when she was 17, “something has changed: you laugh a lot less now. “
“I hope you have more reasons to smile. You know what it takes. We all do,” she tweeted.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine