“Today, at 12 noon, Bahmut was completely taken,” the mercenary group head claimed. “We completely took the whole city, from house to house.”
His press service posted a video purporting to show Prigozhin holding a Russian flag in Bakhmut, surrounded by Wagner mercenaries. The sound of explosions appear to be heard in the background as he spoke.
Prigozhin claimed that the Wagner Group will withdraw from Bakhmut on May 25 for "rest and retraining," giving over the reins to Russia’s regular military. He added that the group “will return when help is needed.”
His press service claimed that a “full video of the hoisting of flags” will be uploaded later this evening.
The Kyiv Independent could not independently verify Prigozhin’s claim or the footage provided by his press service.
Later the same day, a representative from Ukraine’s military denied Prigozhin’s claims.
“This is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut,” Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s Eastern Operational Command, said. He did not provide further information.
Following Prigozhin’s claim, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said there is “heavy fighting in Bakhmut,” adding that the “situation in critical.” She noted that Ukrainian troops are maintaining a defense in the south-western part of the city.
“As of now, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities of the area and the private sector,” Maliar said.
In the morning of May 20, Cherevatyi reported that Russia is sending airborne and motorized rifle units, as well as Wagner mercenaries, to Bahmut. He noted that capturing Bakhmut remains a top priority for Russia’s military.
Meanwhile, the U.K. Defense Ministry reported that Russia has likely redeployed several battalions to the Bakhmut sector, noting that Russia is seeking to claim at least some level of success in the war amid Ukrainian successes and growing concerns about the Wagner group’s reliability.
The battle of Bakhmut has been ongoing since August 2022 and has been described as one of the largest and heaviest engagements in the war.
Recently, Prigozhin threatened to withdraw his forces from the embattled Donetsk Oblast city and, according to the Washington Post leaks, he has been in contact with Ukrainian military intelligence.In the meantime, Ukraine’s forces seized the initiative around Bakhmut on May 19 and advanced up to 500 meters in some areas.