Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front line on Sunday, June 25, said the revolt by Russian mercenary group Wagner had not noticeably affected fighting around the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

AFP saw a stream of injured solders coming back from the battlefield, with a surgeon treating soldiers wounded in fighting near Bakhmut saying there had been more patients in recent days.

"Most people, most military, understand very well that the circus from Russia is still here. They didn't go out. They stay in the same positions," said Nazar, a 26-year-old bearded soldier, parked at a service station on a road leading out of the area.

The town of Bakhmut was almost entirely captured by Russia this summer, in a success largely credited to the Wagner forces. Fighting continues in nearby areas.

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An armed rebellion by Wagner's chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who had vowed on Friday to topple the Russian military leadership, sparked Russia's largest political crisis in decades.

At the weekend, Prigozhin ordered his forces to take over a key military headquarters in southern Russia and launch a march on Moscow, before suddenly telling his mercenaries on Saturday to turn around after a deal mediated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The aborted revolt has left many in Russia and abroad stunned.

Some, like Nazar, suggested the publicity around Wagner's attempt was intended to trick Ukrainian troops.

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"Russia is trying any way to throw us out of control," including with "fake news" on social media, Nazar said.

"We are returning now from the Bakhmut direction, we can say that fighting is going on in both the area of Klishchiivka and Bakhmut," he added.

"As it attacked yesterday, Russia continued to attack today," he said.

- '60 to 80 cases per day' -

Another soldier, who did not give his name but said he had been fighting in the area for six months, said Wagner troops in the area had kept fighting, along with Storm Z units using prisoners, also set up by Prigozhin.

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"Some small groups (of Russians) left positions," said Oleksandr, another soldier returning from combat in the Bakhmut zone.

But he said that for Ukraine, the fighting is going "according to plan".

At a medical facility used to stabilise injured soldiers evacuated from a frontline area near Bakhmut, Dmytro, a surgeon from the 5th Storm Brigade, said he had seen an increase in patients.

"The last two or three days, the number of cases is increasing from our side," he said, adding this was "because we attacked the Russian pigs".

"It's like a wave, because for example we have an assaulting period for our forces, we have more cases."

"On average we have at this point 60 to 80 cases per day," Dmytro said, adding that most had sustained concussions.

AFP journalists saw four wounded soldiers arriving in around an hour.

One was very seriously injured and risked losing both his legs, said a combat medic, also called Nazar.

He said the soldier, his face still covered with soil from an explosion, was lucky to be alive thanks to a swift evacuation.

- 'Shoot to kill' -

Another newly arrived patient had a leg pierced by dozens of pieces of shrapnel.

Nazar said two soldiers from his unit had been killed that morning, dying before they could be evacuated. One was a father of two young children.

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Last week, five men were killed, the medic said.

Nazar, a dental surgeon in civilian life, said that in his view Russian forces were now aiming to kill Ukrainian troops rather than take them prisoner.

"Before, if they could take someone alive, they would," he said. "Now they just shoot to kill."

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