Wagner boss says mercenary group will hand Bakhmut over to Russian army by June 1

The founder of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has announced that his forces will withdraw from Bakhmut on June 1 and hand over their positions to regular units of the Russian army. File photo EPA/Sergei Ilnitsky

May 25 (UPI) — The founder of Wagner’s mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has announced that his forces will withdraw from Bakhmut after taking the city and hand over their positions to regular Russian army units by June 1.

“We are withdrawing Bakhmut units today,” Prigozhin said in a video posted on Telegram.

“We will hand over our positions, ammunition, everything, including dry rations, to the troops,” Prigozhin said.

BBC Verify geolocated the footage to confirm that it was filmed in the eastern part of Bakhmut.

Before declaring the city taken, Prigozhin called for more ammunition in a video showing dead fighters lying in a field and denounced the Russian Defense Ministry for insufficient support.

Prigozhin stated that his forces had captured Bakhmut on Saturday.

“The operation to capture Bakhmut lasted 224 days,” Prigozhin said in a Telegram post.

While Wagner appears to have seized most or all of the city, Ukrainian forces have advanced along the flanks of the city to higher ground, which could leave Russian troops in Bakhmut vulnerable to fire. artillery.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed that Wagner’s forces were being replaced by regular army units, but also claimed on Thursday that Ukrainian fighters were still holding out in enclaves in southwestern Bakhmut.

“The enemy has replaced Wagner’s units in the suburbs with regular army troops. Inside the city, Wagner’s forces are still present,” Maliar said in a Telegram post.

While the numbers are impossible to confirm, anonymous Ukrainian military sources told the New York Times that around 20,000 Russian fighters were killed in the conquest of the small town.

Earlier this week, Prigozhin reported similar death rates, saying he had lost about 20,000 men in taking the city.

Bakhmut’s downfall after 10 months of Russian attacks, at great cost, has been overshadowed by a raid in which Russian opposition fighters fought battles with Russian government forces in Russia’s Belgorod region.

The Russian military released footage purporting to show airstrikes against opposition fighters in Belgorod Oblast.

Ukraine has denied any connection to the raid.

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