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Ukraine says its forces hold out against Russia in battle for Soledar

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2023-01-13T00:20:02Z

Ukrainian servicemen stationed near Soledar said on Thursday (January 12) they are holding their positions. Reuters was unable to verify conditions on the ground.

Ukraine said its troops were holding out against pro-Moscow forces in the eastern salt mining town of Soledar as more than 500 civilians including children were trapped there.

In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday thanked two units in Soledar that he said “are holding their positions and inflicting significant losses on the enemy.” He did not give more details.

Zelenskiy said he and senior Ukrainian commanders analysed the need for reinforcements in Soledar and nearby towns in the eastern industrial area known as the Donbas and next steps for the coming days.

Russia’s ultra-nationalist contract militia Wagner Group, run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, claimed to have taken Soledar after intense fighting that it said left the town strewn with Ukrainian dead.

Moscow however, has held off officially proclaiming a victory, which would be its first significant gain in six months.

“At the moment, there are still some small pockets of resistance in Soledar,” Andrei Bayevsky, a Russian-installed local politician, said in an online broadcast.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the situation.

Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian state TV that 559 civilians remained in Soledar, including 15 children, and could not be evacuated from the community that had a pre-war population of about 10,000.

Drone footage obtained by Reuters of a medical evacuation from Soledar by Ukrainian soldiers showed deserted streets where just a few ruined buildings remained standing, amid blasted trees and smouldering rubble.

A 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier, positioned outside Soledar, said: “The situation is difficult but stable. We’re holding back the enemy … we’re fighting back.”

U.S. officials questioned the importance of a Russian victory in Soledar even if that were true.

Soledar lies less than 10 km (6 miles) northeast of the city of Bakhmut where fighting has raged for months in one of the war’s bloodiest battles – dubbed the “meat grinder”.

“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House, “and it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down.”

If Russia captured Soledar, it would likely use that position to intensify its assault on Bakhmut. Soledar is also home to cavernous salt mines, which could be a commercially lucrative asset.

Kremlin-watchers were examining Russia’s latest switch of battlefield leadership, a day after Valery Gerasimov, chief of the military’s general staff, was unexpectedly given direct command of the invasion.

The previous commander of three months’ standing, Army General Sergei Surovikin, was effectively demoted to become one of Gerasimov’s three deputies.

Moscow explained the decision – at least the third abrupt change of top commander in the 11-month conflict – as a response to the campaign’s growing importance.

Across Ukraine, the front lines have barely budged since Russia’s last big retreat in the south two months ago. Kyiv hopes heavy armour from Western allies will allow it to resume advances.

Western countries have started to offer Kyiv advanced weaponry like the sophisticated U.S. Patriot missile system. The United States, Germany and France last week pledged armoured fighting vehicles and Ukraine’s latest requests have focused on battle tanks.

Polish President Andrzej Duda promised Ukraine 14 German-made Leopard battle tanks. Zelenskiy told Polish state-run broadcaster TVP Info that this could pave the way for other countries to do the same. Britain is considering sending tanks.

Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24, saying Kyiv’s ties with the West threatened Russia’s security. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war to seize territory.

Related Galleries:

Ukrainian army, of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade fire a German howitzer Panzerhaubitze 2000, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near Soledar, Ukraine, January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

A satellite view shows a destroyed school and buildings in south Soledar, Ukraine, January 10, 2023. Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

A rescuer and a dog warm up next to a wood stove inside a State Emergency Service station in the town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 11, 2023. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov attend an annual meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, December 21, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Kuravlev/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo

A satellite view shows a smoldering building, in Soledar, Ukraine, January 3, 2023. Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS

People in military uniform, claimed to be soldiers of Russian mercenary group Wagner and its head Yevgeny Prigozhin, pose for a picture believed to be in a salt mine in Soledar in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released January 10, 2023. Press service of “Concord”/Handout via REUTERS

A satellite view shows apartment buildings and homes, in Soledar, Ukraine, August 1, 2022. Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS

A satellite view shows destroyed apartment buildings and homes, in Soledar, Ukraine, January 10, 2023. Satellite image ?2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS

Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov attends an annual meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, December 21, 2022. Sputnik/Sergei Fadeichev/Pool via REUTERS

A tank fires a round, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this screen grab released on January 8, 2023 and obtained from a social media video by Reuters on January 10, 2023. State Border Guard Service Of Ukraine/via REUTERS/File Photo

An elderly woman walks near debris of a destroyed building purported to be a vocational college used as temporary accommodation for Russian soldiers, dozens of whom were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike as stated previously by Russia’s Defence Ministry, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Makiivka (Makeyevka), Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Ukrainian members of the military fire an anti-aircraft weapon, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the frontline city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Local residents remove debris and carry belongings out of a shop destroyed in recent shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Local resident Anatoly stands inside his house heavily damaged in recent shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Local residents remove debris and carry belongings out of a shop destroyed in recent shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Smoke rises from strikes on the frontline city of Soledar, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, as seen from Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 5, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

General view of railway lines, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Siversk, Ukraine, January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Local residents look through items at a site of the local market, heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the Shevchenkove town, Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

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

Ukrainian firefighters work at the site of a local market, heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the Shevchenkove town, Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

A firefighter works at a site of a market hit by Russian missiles, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the town of Shevchenkove, Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 9, 2023. Governor of Kharkiv region Oleh Sunehubov via Telegram/Handout via REUTERS

People return to their shelters after gathering water, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Siversk, Ukraine, January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Olha, 60, resident of Soledar waits in a temporary sleeping accommodation before being transported to an evacuation train where she will get out in Dnipro, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, January 8, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

General view of damage from a strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Siversk, Ukraine, January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne


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