Ukrainian military admits ceding Soledar to Russian forces

Ukrainian military admits ceding Soledar to Russian forces

The Ukrainian army admitted on Wednesday that it had ceded the eastern town of Soledar to the Russians two weeks after Moscow announced it would capture it.

• Also read: Five things to know about the Battle of Soledar in Ukraine

• Also read: Ukrainian army defends Soledar despite “difficult situation”

• Also read: Soledar and Bakhmout, the “bloody battle” since the beginning of the Russian invasion

“After months of difficult fighting (…) Ukrainian forces left it” to “retreat to prepared positions,” Eastern Zone military spokesman Serguiï Tcherevaty told AFP, but refused to specify the timing of this retreat.

Russian paramilitary group Wagner announced that they had taken Soledar on January 11, followed by the Russian army on January 13. Known for its salt mines, this small pre-war Donetsk region town of 11,000 people is near Bakhmout, another hotspot in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainians have so far refused to acknowledge the loss of the city.

The strategic importance of Soledar has been disputed, with the American think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) saying it is not an “operationally significant development”.

The Russian army, on the other hand, presents the capture of Soledar as an important step in encircling the neighboring town of Bakhmout, which it has been trying to capture since the summer and where both sides are suffering heavy casualties.

Soledar’s retreat was “controlled, there was no encirclement or massive capture of our soldiers,” assured Mr. Tcherevaty, who denied any “escape” of Ukrainian soldiers.

Before withdrawing, Ukrainian troops inflicted “incredible losses” on the Russians, he continued, stressing that the Ukrainian strategy in this area is “to wear down the enemy.”

A Russian occupation official in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday claimed responsibility for an advance by Russian troops in Bakhmout, citing the capture of Soledar as a crucial factor.

However, according to Mr Tcherevaty, these claims “do not correspond to reality”. “The fighting continues. The situation is difficult but under control,” he added.