Podolyak: Prigozhin’s claim of capturing Bakhmut aimed at distracting from support for Ukraine

·2 min read

Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin’s claim that his mercenaries had captured Bakhmut was an attempt to distract from the overwhelming support for Ukraine received during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visits abroad, Mykhailo Podolyak an advisor to Ukraine’s Presidential Office, said.

“It’s not the first time that Prigozhin has said: ‘everything has been captured and we are dominating,’” Podolyak said in a televised interview. “It’s obvious that it is necessary to interrupt the information space amid President Zelensky’s visits and the harsh statements made by the heads of foreign states regarding how the war should be finalized, what the armed support for Ukraine will be, and what will happen to Russia after it will lose.”

He noted that Prigozhin’s claim was meant to distract attention from Zelensky’s visit to the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia and international condemnation of Russia at the G7 summit in Japan.

Podolyak said Bakhmut will be liberated regardless and questioned how Russia will proceed after losing so much trying to capture the city.

Prigozhin claimed full control over the embattled city of Bakhmut on May 20 in a voice message posted to Telegram.

“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.”

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.

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.