AAn infantry carrier moves rapidly across a devastated landscape, traversing a flat expanse dotted with lines of broken buildings, some reduced to rubble by artillery fire. At one point, a plume of smoke is visible, drifting across the bottom of a huge open pit mine.
Drone footage shows the aircraft carrier, marked with a red cross, coming to a stop next to a building that is missing part of its roof and many windows. A Ukrainian doctor rushes over and briefly watches around the corner of the building as a victim is brought in on a stretcher. Quickly loaded, the carrier sped away at high speed, under fire from Russian artillery as it attempted to leave the city.
Pictured are the ruins of the small mining town of Soledar in the Donbass, and a fleeting scene from a battle where life, death and injuries were measured last week in duds as close and not so relatives.
On Friday, as the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces had taken full control of the mining town, Western analysts suggested that if true, it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best, won at the cost strong by the fighters of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary group. , who claimed the city fell on Wednesday.
Ukrainian officials have denied the Russian claim, suggesting they are still holding their ground and counterattacking, with Ukrainian military spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi reporting “ongoing battles”. The before and after photos give an idea of the destruction:
While the situation on the battlefield remained difficult to verify on Friday, by the end of the week the geotagging of Russian war correspondent reports from Soledar suggested that Russian forces controlled large parts of the city. Ukrainian forces, however, appeared to remain within the municipal boundaries of Soledar, still fighting in the northwest, around the town’s salt mine and rail junction.
Importantly, Ukraine still appears to control the road beyond the city, connecting Bakhmut and neighboring Soledar to Sloviansk and Kostyantynivka, the capture of which would further threaten Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut. What is clear is that the battle of Soledar and Bakhmut has become emblematic of the current state of war on Ukraine’s eastern front, and more broadly symbolic of the state of Moscow’s offensive. .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed on Thursday night to deliver “everything needed for the battles of Soledar and Bakhmut…quickly and without disruption” as it emerged that while most of Soledar did indeed fall, the forces Russians will have to actively defend it.
Accounts from both sides described what was a “hellish” battle, amid claims by some Ukrainian fighters that they heard Wagner fighters – many of whom were convicts recruited in exchange for pardons – being told by commanders that they would be shot if they retreated.
Oleksandr Pohrebyskyy, a Ukrainian soldier from the 46th Airmobile Brigade recently evacuated from Soledar suffering from hypothermia, described the fighting in an interview this week with Ukrainian Pravda.
Pohrebyskyy described encountering dead Russian fighters who had been killed in their vehicle during an ammunition supply run: “It was just suicide…When we approached them, the dead, we as the driver and the other soldiers were without body armor, without helmets, with a magazine in the machine gun. In the very tight infantry fights, we heard their commanders shouting: “Not a step back. We will fire.” We have heard and seen it with our own eyes.
In an interview with Radio NV, Yevhen Dykiy, a former commander of the Aidar battalion, described the experiences of some of his former comrades in house-to-house fighting. “A friend of mine fought directly inside a school: one wing of the school was ours, and another wing of the school was under the control of the invaders. There was a fight both in the school hallways and in the gymnasium.
Soledar’s downfall – if confirmed – would be a propaganda prize for the Kremlin, which has had little good news from the battlefield in recent months, but the significance beyond that is unclear.
While most analysts believe Russia’s ultimate goal in Soledar is to weaken Ukrainian defenses around Bakhmut, allowing for its further encirclement, the cost so far in Russian deaths has been enormous, with claims according to which Moscow sometimes loses 100 soldiers a day. This tactic was enunciated by “Witch” – a female Ukrainian officer – in the Bakhmut sector as she was filmed walking around town at the end of the week.
“The situation is difficult in Soledar at the moment. I’ll explain why. The enemy is unable to attack directly [Bakhmut] forward. So they decided to come from the flanks [Soledar]counting on the flank as not being so [reliably defended]. That’s what they’re counting on. »
The Institute for the Study of War was skeptical of the advantage gained by the Russian forces.
“Russian Info Ops has exaggerated the significance of Soledar, which is a Russian Pyrrhic tactical victory at best,” he said in a recent update. “[We] continue to assess that the capture of Soledar – a settlement of less than 5.5 square miles – will not allow Russian forces to exercise control over critical Ukrainian land lines of communication to Bakhmut or better position Russian forces to encircle the city in the short term.
The fights for Soledar also highlighted the increasingly toxic rivalries and dysfunctional relationship between the Russian Defense Ministry leadership and Wagner Group founder Prigozhin, who has played an increasingly visible role in Ukraine. .
His premature statement on Wednesday that Soledar was won exclusively by Wagner was disputed by Department of Defense accounts, which described the action of airborne troops and other forces in the Battle of Soledar, with some analysts suggesting that the Vladimir Putin’s military leadership reshuffle this week was seen as an attempt to show that the Defense Ministry still has its backing and is in charge as the troubled conflict nears the 11-month mark.