More than 500 residents, including children, are reportedly trapped in the eastern salt mining town of Soledar, where pro-Moscow rebels are battling Ukrainian soldiers.
Thursday, January 12, in a video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy commended two troops in Soledar for “holding their positions and inflicting considerable casualties on the enemy.” He did not offer additional specifics.
Zelenskiy stated that he and top Ukrainian commanders examined the need for reinforcements in Soledar and other towns in the eastern industrial region known as the Donbas, as well as the next measures for the coming days.
Wagner Group, a Russian ultranationalist contract militia commanded by a Putin friend, claimed to have captured Soledar after fierce battle that left the town littered with Ukrainian corpses.
Moscow has nevertheless refrained from announcing an outright triumph, which would be its first big gain in six months.
“There are still pockets of resistance in Soledar,” a Russian-installed local leader stated in an internet broadcast.
The scenario could not be independently verified by Reuters.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of Donetsk, stated on Ukrainian state television that 559 residents, including 15 children, could not be evacuated from the pre-war population of around 10,000 in Soledar.
Drone footage acquired by Reuters of a medical evacuation from Soledar by Ukrainian troops revealed desolate streets with only a few destroyed homes still surviving, surrounded by charred trees and smoking wreckage.
Outside Soledar, a 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier stated, “The situation is rough but stable. We are holding the attackers at bay… we are fighting back.”
Even if this were true, US officials questioned the significance of a Russian win in Soledar.
Soledar is located fewer than 10 kilometers (6 miles) northeast of the city of Bakhmut, where one of the deadliest fights of the conflict – called the “meat grinder” – has raged for months.
“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it won’t have a strategic influence on the conflict,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House. “It also won’t stop or slow down the Ukrainians.”
Analyst Oleksandr Kovalenko of the Ukraine’s Information Resistance Military-political organization stated that the struggle for Soledar had relieved pressure on the more crucial town of Bakhmut.
Kovalenko stated that the vast salt mines of Soledar may be profitable for Russia if its forces were able to capture the town.
He said that Ukrainian forces held the southwest and center of Soledar, but cautioned that “maintaining this control costs lives.”