KYIV, May 10 (Reuters) – A Ukrainian military unit said on Wednesday it had routed a Russian infantry brigade from frontline territory near Bakhmut, claiming to confirm an account by the head of Russia’s Wagner private army that the Russian forces had fled.
Moscow has not commented on the reports that its 72nd Separate Motor-rifle Brigade had abandoned its positions on the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut.
Russia’s ministry of defence did not immediately reply to a request for comment, and Reuters was unable to independently confirm the situation on the ground.
A Russian brigade is typically formed of several thousand troops. The eastern Ukrainian city has been the primary target of Moscow’s huge winter offensive and scene of the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.
Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has repeatedly accused Moscow’s regular armed forces of failing to adequately support his private army leading the fight in Bakhmut, said on Tuesday that the Russian brigade had abandoned its positions.
“Our army is fleeing. The 72nd Brigade pissed away three square km this morning, where I had lost around 500 men,” Prigozhin said.
In a statement overnight, Ukraine’s Third Separate Assault Brigade said: “It’s official. Prigozhin’s report about the flight of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut and the ‘500 corpses’ of Russians left behind is true.”
“The Third Assault Brigade is grateful for the publicity about our success at the front.”
Early on Wednesday the Ukrainian unit, which was formed last year from the nationalist Azov Battalion, reposted a video of one of Azov’s founders, Andriy Biletsky, who said his forces had “defeated” the Russian brigade.
“In fact, the 6th and 7th squadrons of this brigade were almost entirely destroyed, brigade intelligence was destroyed, a large number of fighting vehicles were destroyed a considerable number of prisoners were taken,” he said.
“The attacks were implemented within a territory 3 km wide and 2.6 km deep, and this entire territory is completely liberated from the Russian occupying forces.”
Ukraine’s eastern military command said the Russian brigade had been heavily damaged, although it said Russia was still trying all-out to capture the rest of the city.
“Unfortunately they have not destroyed the whole (Russian) brigade yet, two companies have been seriously damaged there,” Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern military command, said in televised comments.
“The situation (in Bakhmut) remains difficult because for the enemy, despite all the white noise Prigozhin is trying to create, it (Bakhmut) is (still) the main direction of attack, the main coveted target,” he said.
Since last week, Prigozhin has repeatedly threatened to pull Wagner’s forces out of Bakhmut unless Russia’s regular armed forces send his troops more ammunition. In his latest remarks on Wednesday he said his troops were receiving only 10 percent of the shells they need.
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