Russia’s Wagner Group Declares ‘Legal’ Victory Over Bakhmut—Ukraine Denies Claim

Russia’s Wagner Group declared on April 2 that Russia had taken “legal” control of Bakhmut, the city where the longest and bloodiest battle of the war has raged for six months. Ukraine denies the claim, however, and says fighting is still raging around the city.

Staking claim: In a video posted on his Telegram account late Sunday night, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed he was holding a Russian flag in front of Bakhmut’s administrative building. Proigozhin claimed his troops would plant the flag on the city’s town hall.

“From a legal point of view, Bakhmut has been taken,” he said. “The enemy is concentrated in the western parts [of Bakhumt].”

Rebuttal: Despite Russia’s claim, fighting is ongoing in and around the city. On the morning of April 3, the Ukrainian armed forces general staff said it had repelled more than 20 attacks during the day that Wagner claimed victory.

The same day, Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of the Ukrainian president, said Russia’s claim of victory over the long contested city was false news.

Serhiy Cherevatiy, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told Reuters that Russian forces were in fact “very far” from fully seizing the city.

They raised the flag over some kind of toilet. They attached it to the side of who knows what, hung their rag, and said they had captured the city. Well good, let them think they’ve taken it. There are battles around the building of [Bakhmut’s] city council; they haven’t captured anything in a legal sense.
—Serhiy Cherevatiy

Whatever it takes: Russian forces have lost between 20,000 and 30,000 men on Bakhmut’s front lines. If won, the city would be a pivotal gain and could alter the overall war effort. This is why Russia remains unshaken in its determination to seize the city.

Putin’s Russia is supposed to be a ferocious military power. … To achieve anything less than a decisive victory in Ukraine would bring all of this crashing down. It would be humiliating loss of face for Putin and would showcase Russia as a failure in the one area where it professes to be untouchable: military power.
—“Putin Can’t Afford to Lose in Ukraine