The town in eastern Ukraine, famous for its salt mines, was the center of days of fierce fighting.
The head of Russian mercenary Wagner Group has claimed to have secured control of the salt mining town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, but fighting in the center of the town remains uncertain.
Soledar has been the focus of intense fighting for days, as Russia sees it as a key campaign for the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut and Ukraine’s larger eastern Donbas region.
It was not possible to check the conditions on the spot, and Ukrainian officials did not comment on the situation.
“Wagner’s units took over the entire territory of Soledar. A cauldron has been formed in the center of the city where urban struggles are taking place,” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was reported by Russian news agencies as saying on Tuesday evening.
“The number of prisoners will be announced tomorrow,” Prigozhin added. The encircled Ukrainian troops were given an ultimatum to surrender by midnight (22:00 GMT), the group said in a telegram.
Soledar is about 15 km (9 miles) from Bakhmut, and its capture would have symbolic, military and commercial value for Russia.
Russia’s state news agency RIA later published a report saying the Wagner Group had taken over the Soledar salt mines after “fierce fighting,” and Prigozhin shared a photo of himself surrounded by his mercenaries in one of the mines, he said.
Still, the Washington-based Institute for Military Studies expressed caution about Russia’s claims.
“Russian forces have not captured all of #Soledar, despite false Russian claims that the city has fallen and that #Bakhmut is under imminent encirclement,” the social networking site said on Twitter, noting that Prigozhin himself acknowledged that the war in the city was ongoing.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made no mention of control of Soledar in his usual video speech Tuesday night, reiterating his call for more Western weapons, saying Russia was looking to step up its military campaign. He did not provide details.
But Ukraine’s Defense Ministry tweeted on Tuesday evening: “Even after suffering huge losses, Russia is still maniacally trying to seize Soledar, the site of Europe’s largest salt mine.”
Ukraine previously said its forces were still holding positions in Soledar, fending off wave after wave of attacks by Russian forces seeking their first victory on the battlefield in months.
The capture of Soledar would be Russia’s biggest gain since August after several humiliating retreats in the northeast and south in 2022. on the other side.
But any victory in Bakhmut would come at a huge cost, with troops on both sides suffering heavy losses in the heaviest fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year.
Kyiv has released photos in recent days of what it says are large numbers of Russian troops spread out in muddy fields.
Moscow says capturing Bakhmut would be a key step in taking full control of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, one of four provinces it said it annexed two months ago.