The battle for Bakhmut "does not stop," as Russian forces continue to conduct offensive operations to capture the entire city, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said on May 21 in its morning briefing.
Meanwhile, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to acknowledge losing control of Bakhmut at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan. When asked if Ukraine still controls the city, Zelensky said, "I think no," according to DW.
However, Zelensky's spokesperson, Sergii Nykyforov, denied that he had admitted losing Bakhmut. In a Facebook post, Nykyforov clarified that Zelensky's reply, "I think no," was in response to a reporter's question on whether Russian forces had taken Bakhmut.
The General Staff's report comes a day after the chief of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed full control over Bakhmut, a claim denied by the Ukrainian military and authorities. Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s Eastern Operational Command, told Reuters on May 20 that "our units are fighting in Bakhmut."
Cherevatyi reported that Russia is deploying airborne and motorized rifle units to Bakhmut, and Moscow is desperate to capture the city – now destroyed after more than 10 months of heavy fighting – as if it stands as “some kind of trophy” for its efforts.
Cherevatyi said on May 20 that Ukrainian forces were still holding the southwestern part of Bakhmut.
Late on May 20, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have captured Bakhmut, and that the "Wagner assault detachments" played a big role in it – a rare example of the Kremlin crediting the Wagner after months of rivalry tensions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Wagner and the regular Russian army for claiming control of the city, Kremlin-run news agency TASS reported on May 21.
Russia has massed manpower and equipment in a desperate months-long bid to capture Bakhmut, while suffering heavy casualties.