Ukraine has said it has pushed Russian forces away from the flanks of Bakhmut, wresting back about 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) from a Russian pincer movement around the besieged city.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar made the announcement on Tuesday evening, but admitted Moscow's forces were pushing deeper inside the city of Bakhmut itself.

Maylar said developments there "should not be taken out of context" and has previously stressed that Ukraine’s advances around Bakhmut are not part of the broader counteroffensive planned by Kyiv.

 In a post on Telegram, she wrote: “For example, within a few days, our troops liberated about 20 square kilometers from the enemy in the north and south of the suburbs of Bakhmut.

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“At the same time, the enemy is advancing somewhat in Bakhmut itself, completely destroying the city with artillery.

“Heavy battles continue with different results.”

The commander of Ukraine's ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, had earlier said he visited forces near Bakhmut to hand out awards to Kyiv's troops, who are fighting in the single longest battle since the full-scale invasion.

"Wagner's men went into Bakhmut like rats into a mousetrap," he said, referring to the Russian paramilitary group. 

The UK Ministry of Defence said that "over the last four days, Ukrainian forces have made tactical progress, stabilizing the flanks of Bakhmut to their advantage".

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In its daily assessment on Tuesday, May 16, the Institute for the Study of War highlighted that Ukraine’s efforts around Bakhmut were far more limited in scope than Russia’s.

It said: “Russian forces have likely committed to reinforcing their tactical offensive effort in the Bakhmut area, despite Ukraine’s apparent focus on limited and localized counterattacks. 

“Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Head, Denis Pushilin, claimed on May 16 that Russian forces have strengthened their forces in the Bakhmut area to stabilize the situation, and a prominent Russian ‘milblogger’ claimed that four unspecified Russian battalions have deployed to the flanks around Bakhmut to prevent Ukrainian breakthroughs.

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“Ukrainian military officials continue to indicate that Ukraine is pursuing much more limited operations in the Bakhmut area than Russian forces, who appear to be committed to Bakhmut as a renewed main effort.”

On the evening of Sunday, May 14, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maylar ,said that Kyiv’s forces had captured more than 10 Russian positions on the outskirts of Bakhmut.

“Enemy soldiers of various units have been captured,” Maylar said, in a post on social media on Sunday evening.

“Anyone who knows the real situation and is there now understands the gravity of what is happening,” she added. Maylar continued to say that “fierce” fighting continued in Bakhmut, located in the eastern region of Donetsk, and that Russians were trying to advance and were destroying “everything” on their way.

On Saturday, Kyiv said its armed forces were “moving forward” in the Bakhmut sector, in what the head of the mercenary group Wagner has described as a “rout” for Russian forces.

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Elsewhere, Prigozhin released a video on Tuesday in which he poses next to what he claims is the body of an American volunteer killed while fighting alongside Ukraine.

In a video shared by Russian military bloggers, Yevgeny Prigozhin and some of his men are seen walking at night before showing the body in the rubble of a building.

Standing beside the body, which appears to have suffered a stomach wound, Prigozhin said: “He came to meet us. Citizen of the United States of America.”

“We will return him to the United States. We will put him in a coffin (with) the American flag. With respect, because he didn’t die in a grandfather’s bed but in the war.”

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