Ukraine has denied Russian claims mercenary forces of the Wagner Group have "liberated" the fiercely contested town of Soledar, saying "severe" fighting is still ongoing.
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the Russian Defence Ministry said the town had been taken the previous evening.
"On the evening of Jan. 12, the liberation of the city of Soledar was completed, which is important for the continuation of successful offensive operations," the statement read.
In response, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in a Friday afternoon statement reported by the UNIAN news agency said Kyiv’s troops were still fighting in Soledar, and that units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) using artillery and direct fire weapons were eviscerating attacking Russian units.
He claimed that Russian forces led by Wagner assault groups are losing 500-600 men daily dead, wounded and captured, and that Ukrainian losses are "one tenth of that."
Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for the eastern group of the AFU, added: "The AFU have the situation under control in difficult conditions."
Ukraine's deputy defence minister had earlier said that Russia had "relocated almost all of its main forces to the Donetsk front" to ensure Soledar's capture. "This is a difficult phase of the war," Hanna Malyar conceded.
Multiple Russian sources on Friday also claimed Soledar was fully under Russian army control, with pro-Russian social media reporting leading the charge.
A report late Friday morning from the local Goryachi Ugli (Hot coals) channel said Wagner fighters had occupied the city’s salt factory and centrally-located rail station.
"Soledar is ours. The main thing is not to stop," the pro-Russia Readovka military information platform wrote in a Friday afternoon situation update.
"Our troops are inflicting defeats on the (Ukrainian) enemy, and from these defeats there will follow a big catastrophe for the Ukrainian army."
"The Musicians (Wagner fighters), paratroopers, infantrymen, tankers, artillery gunners and fighter pilots are outstanding guys. Glory to you, simple soldiers and officers!" cheered the pro-Kremlin Starshe Eddy military information channel.
The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a military observation group, said in an analytical note that Russian forces had likely already captured Soledar on Wednesday.
"But this small-scale victory is unlikely to presage an imminent encirclement of Bakhmut," it cautioned.
The think tank added that Russian information operations have "overexaggerated" the importance of Soledar, AFP reports.
ISW said its assessment of Russia's "likely" control over Soledar was based on geolocated footage earlier this week, adding that Moscow's troops "likely pushed Ukrainian forces out of the western outskirts of the settlement."
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