May 1 (Reuters) – Ukraine remains in control of a key supply route into Bakhmut, a military spokesperson said on Saturday, as the head of Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group threatened to withdraw some of his troops from the eastern city if Moscow did not send more ammunition.
Russian forces have been trying for 10 months to punch their way into the shattered remains of what was once a city of 70,000. Kyiv has pledged to defend Bakhmut, which Russia sees as a stepping stone to attacking other cities.
“For several weeks, the Russians have been talking about seizing the ‘road of life,’ as well as about constant fire control over it,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukrainian troops in the east, said in an interview with local news website Dzerkalo Tyzhnia.
“Yes, it is really difficult there … (but) the defence forces have not allowed the Russians to ‘cut off’ our logistics.”
The “road of life” is a vital road between the ruined Bakhmut and the nearby town Chasiv Yar to the west – a distance of just over 17 km (10.56 miles).
Ukraine’s top military command said in its daily update on Sunday that its forces had repelled 58 Russian attacks over the past day along the part of frontline stretching from Bakhmut through Avdiivka and on to Maryinka further south in the Donetsk region.
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If Bakhmut fell, Chasiv Yar would probably be next to come under Russian attack according to military analysts, though it is on higher ground and Ukrainian forces are believed to have built defensive fortifications nearby.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner Group, who has often claimed unverifiable successes, said that his forces have advanced some 100 to 150 metres (109 to 164 yards) in Bakhmut, leaving just under 3 square km of the city in Ukrainian hands.
But he said he lost 94 troops.
“It would have had been five times fewer if we had more ammunition,” Prigozhin said in an audio statement published on the Telegram messaging app of his press service on Saturday evening.
Separately, in a nearly 90-minute video interview with Russian military blogger Semyon Pegov published on Saturday, Prigozhin threatened to withdraw troops from Bakhmut, saying they had enough ammunition left only for days.
“If the shortage of ammunition is not replenished, then … most likely, we will be forced to withdraw part of the units,” Prigozhin said, quoting a letter he said was sent to Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, giving an April 28 deadline.
It was not immediately known when the interview was recorded.
Prigozhin has often said the regular armed forces are not giving his men the ammunition they need and has sometimes accused top brass of betrayal.
“We need to stop deceiving the population and telling them that everything is fine,” Prigozhin said in the interview. “I must honestly say: Russia is on the brink of a disaster.”
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