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Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhii Cherevatyi reported that “ongoing battles” were continuing in the salt-mining town of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk Oblast on Jan. 13, denying an earlier claim by the Russian Ministry of Defense that the city was fully under Russian control.
Ukrainian officials’ comments come amid contradicting reports about which side holds Soledar, a town with a pre-war population of 10,000 located 10 kilometers north of Bakhmut – a city Russia has tried to capture for more than five months.
Russian militants in eastern Ukraine and Kremlin-run mercenary Wagner Group have made claims that Russia had captured Soledar since Jan. 10, but Ukraine continues to deny the claims.
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, which has played an active role in the battle for Soledar alongside Ukraine's 46th Airmobile Brigade, posted photos of a successful strike "near Bakhmut" on a Russian assault group, killing 9 and wounding 16.
Donetsk Oblast Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said that 559 civilians including 15 children remained in the town and could not be evacuated, the BBC reported.
Military analysts dispute Soledar’s strategic significance due to its relatively small size, but seizing it would likely bolster the reputation of the Wagner Group and its head, former convict and personal ally of Vladimir Putin Yevgenii Prigozhin.
In his first message claimining to have taken Soledar on Jan. 10, Prigozhin emphasized the point that no other forces took part in the capture of Soledar but Wagner Group soldiers.
Taking Soledar could also help Russian troops access Bakhmut, one of the bloodiest ongoing battles on the frontline.Control over the city could fuel Russia’s propaganda over a victory after months of failures and setbacks in Russia’s war.