National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said in an interview released on May 27 that Russia's Wagner mercenaries are "regrouping to another three locations" after what he called was their partial withdrawal from Bakhmut.
Speaking to the BBC in his office in Kyiv, Danilov said that "we control only a small part of the city," but stressed that "Bakhmut has played a big role in this war," even amid media reports unveiling the heavy cost of Ukraine's decision to continue defending the city.
Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry claimed victory over Bakhmut on May 20, about 10 months after the heavy battle for the city started.
Ukraine dismissed the claims. Ukraine's defense leadership has said that Ukrainian forces control a row of buildings and fortifications in the southwestern part of Bakhmut, but they are conducting counterattacks on the city's flanks in an attempt to encircle Russian forces inside the city.
On May 22, the Kyiv Independent reported that Bakhmut had been effectively captured by Russian troops. This assessment was derived from a combination of official statements and firsthand accounts provided by soldiers on the ground to the Kyiv Independent.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has repeatedly accused the Russian Defense Ministry of not supplying enough ammunition and poorly planning the offensive, claimed on May 25 that his mercenaries started withdrawing from the city.
Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed on May 25 that the Russian regular army had begun replacing Wagner mercenaries in the suburbs of Bakhmut but that a contingent of Wagner forces continued to maintain a presence within the city.
In the interview with the BBC, Danilov also spoke about Ukraine's much-anticipated upcoming counteroffensive.
Danilov insisted that despite some reports claiming the opposite, the counteroffensive hasn't begun yet. He said that the Ukrainian attacks on Russian control centers and Russian military equipment have been ongoing since the beginning of the full-scale war.
According to Danilov, Ukraine will mount the counteroffensive when the military leadership calculates "we can have the best result at that point of the war."
"It could happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or in a week," he told the BBC. "We have a very responsible task before our country. And we understand that we have no right to make a mistake."