Wagner mercenary chief demands more ammunition for Bakhmut battle
Head of Russian private army says his forces are close to the centre of front-line city in eastern Ukraine.
The chief of Russian mercenary group Wagner has said that his forces are close to the centre of the front-line city of Bakhmut.
In a video posted on messaging app Telegram on Saturday, Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen standing on the rooftop of a high-rise building in what he claims is Bakhmut.
“This is the building of the town administration, this is the centre of the town,” Prigozhin said in the video, pointing towards a building in the distance.
“It is one kilometre and 200 metres away,” said Prigozhin, who was clad in full military gear.
Al Jazeera was unable to verify the location where the footage was taken.
Speaking as artillery boomed in the background, Prigozhin said that the most important thing now was to receive more ammunition from the army and “move forward”. He said his forces needed 10,000 tonnes of ammunition each month for the battle.
Wagner has been spearheading offensives against cities in eastern Ukraine including Bakhmut, in what has become the longest and bloodiest fight of Russia’s year-long assault. Both sides have suffered heavy losses around Bakhmut.
Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, has been entangled in a power struggle with the defence ministry.
He has several times claimed battlefield victories ahead of Russia’s army, criticised Russia’s top brass and accused the military of not sharing ammunition with his ragtag forces.
In the video released on Saturday he said he was ready to ask Russia’s top commanders for forgiveness but at the same time appeared to mock Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
He said they were “outstanding military commanders” and added that Russia’s greatest military leaders including Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Suvorov “could have learned” from them.
“I absolutely – totally – support all their initiatives,” Prigozhin added.
‘Necessary to buy time’
Earlier this week Wagner said its fighters had captured the eastern part of Bakhmut.
Some military experts have questioned the sense of Ukraine’s continuing defence of the ravaged town, but Kyiv officials say that the fall of Bakhmut could lead to further Russian advances in the east.
The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, said on Saturday the fight for Bakhmut helps to buy time to prepare for a future counteroffensive.
“The real heroes now are the defenders who are holding the eastern front on their shoulders, and inflicting the heaviest possible losses sparing neither themselves nor the enemy,” Syrsky was quoted as saying in a statement.
“It is necessary to buy time to build reserves and launch a counteroffensive, which is not far off.”
British military intelligence said on Saturday that the Bakhmutka River in the centre of Bakmut now marked the front line.
“Ukrainian forces hold the west of the town and have demolished key bridges over the river, which runs … north-south through a strip of open ground 200 metres-800 metres wide,” the British defence ministry said in an update.
“This area has become a killing zone, likely making it highly challenging for Wagner forces attempting to continue their frontal assault westwards.”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, three civilians were killed in Russian shelling of Kherson, and one other person was killed in the eastern Donetsk region, regional officials said.
Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of Kherson’s regional military administration, said three people, including an elderly woman, were also wounded during the artillery shelling of the city.
“Today the Russian occupiers have hit Kherson again. On a Mykolayivsky road, near a shop, debris from a shell killed three people,” Prokudin told Ukrainian TV, adding that a car, several buses and a commercial property were damaged.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, Donetsk regional governor, said one person was killed and at least three civilians were injured in the city of Kostyantynivka following several rounds of Russian shelling during the day.
Donetsk region has seen some of the heaviest fighting since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year.