Moscow/Lviv, Jan 10 (EFE).- Russia is pushing toward its first battleground victory of the past six months in Soledar, a strategically important town in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province.
It has not yet seized complete control of that salt-mine locality, however, due to fierce resistance from Ukrainian troops.
“I thank all our soldiers … who are withstanding the new and even tougher assaults from the invaders!” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday in his nightly video address.
He acknowledged, however, that Ukrainian troops face an “extremely difficult” task in defending that town, which is located a few kilometers from Bakhmut, another key focal point of the fighting.
The fall of Soledar would be the Russian forces’ first triumph in Ukraine since their conquest of Lysychansk, a city located in the neighboring province of Luhansk.
Both Donetsk and Luhansk are situated in Ukraine’s eastern, mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region.
Although Russia has been ratcheting up the pressure on Ukraine’s troops in Soledar, Kyiv remains determined to hold its ground and is continuing to deploy large amounts of resources to defend the city and check the renewed enemy offensive in the region while awaiting more military aid from its Western allies.
“Due to the resilience of our warriors there, in Soledar, we have gained additional time and additional power for Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.
“What did Russia want to gain there? Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left. And thousands of their people were lost: the whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes,” he added.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian army’s East command, Serhiy Cherevaty, also acknowledged Tuesday that the situation in Soledar was the “most complicated of the eastern front.”
In remarks cited by the Ukrinform agency, he said Soledar had been struck 86 times by different types of artillery over the past 24 hours but that the city’s defenders were doing their utmost to wear down the enemy forces and reduce their potential for further battleground gains.
For his part, Denis Pushilin, the acting governor of Donetsk, which Moscow annexed in September, told Russian state television on Tuesday that Soledar was “very close to liberation.”
He acknowledged that the Russian gains were coming at a “very high price,” adding that the combat was now taking place in the still-Ukrainian-controlled western part of the city.
Separately, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense said in a report released Tuesday that Russian troops and units from the mercenary Wagner Group likely control most of Soledar.
It said part of the fighting was focused on the entry points of 200 kilometers (120 miles) of salt mine tunnels.
“Both sides are likely concerned that they could be used for infiltration behind their lines,” the ministry said. “Russia’s Soledar axis is highly likely an effort to envelop Bakhmut from the north, and to disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication.”
According to Russian military bloggers, the gains made over the past few days in the area have mainly been spearheaded by Wagner Group units, which are made up in part by prisoners recruited to participate in Moscow’s military campaign.
That group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said on Telegram Tuesday that Ukraine’s army was defending Soledar “with honor” and that fierce battles were being waged in the western suburbs of the city.
Soledar, which had some 10,000 inhabitants prior to the onset of the hostilities, is a strategic priority for Moscow because it is seen as a stepping stone to further gains in Bakhmut, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, Ukraine’s main strongholds in the Donbas region.
The Russian-held strategic points of Kreminna and Svatove also continue to be the scenes of fighting.