Conflicting reports on the status of Bakhmut have dominated headlines for the past three days, intensifying the ongoing controversy.
Ukraine remains resolute in its refusal to accept defeat in the war-torn city of Bakhmut, despite claims by a Moscow-backed mercenary group that they now have complete control over the town.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the influential Wagner mercenary force, triumphantly announced their victory in Bakhmut on Saturday, escalating the already intense conflict.
During a news conference at the Group of Seven summit in Japan, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized that Russia does not occupy Bakhmut, the focal point of the long-standing conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“Bakhmut is not occupied by the Russian Federation as of today,” Zelensky said on Sunday. “There are no two or three interpretations of those words.”
In contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the Wagner group for their perceived success in Bakhmut, a sentiment echoed by Russia's Ministry of Defense, which declared victory in the city. Additionally, Prigozhin pledged to transfer control of the Ukrainian city to the Russian army by June 1.
Both sides confidently claim the success of their armed forces.
Ukraine maintains that its troops are still advancing on the outskirts of Bakhmut. Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, head of Ukraine's ground forces, affirmed on Sunday that Ukrainian troops maintain control over certain parts of Bakhmut and are determined not to surrender.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar revealed that the Ukrainian military has encircled Bakhmut, enabling them to retain control over a significant portion of the city.
“Our forces have taken the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy,” she wrote on Telegram.
She further emphasized that Ukrainian troops maintain control over crucial industrial and infrastructure facilities, as well as the private sector in the Litak area of Bakhmut.
Bakhmut, located in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, has been embroiled in a protracted battle between Ukrainian and Russian troops. Moscow has long considered Bakhmut a crucial target since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly 15 months ago. Russian leaders view the city as a strategic gateway for launching attacks on other key Ukrainian cities. Meanwhile, Kyiv has consistently stressed the importance of defending Bakhmut, stating that doing so is vital for the military's preparation for an anticipated counteroffensive.