Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner Group have reportedly begun relocating from some of their positions in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut, the epicenter of the war in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk, according to senior Ukrainian officials and British intelligence.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the mercenary group that has spearheaded the attack on Bakhmut, on May 25 said his fighters were starting to leave the city and would be replaced by regular Russian troops.
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Prigozhin claimed his fighters had captured Bakhmut, an assertion rejected by Kyiv officials who said Ukrainian forces still control parts of the devastated city.
At the same time, the Ukrainian side confirmed “certain rotational movements” of Russian forces in Bakhmut.
“Indeed, they are replacing (forces), but how massively, how much he (Prigozhin) will really withdraw the units of this criminal group — it will take a little time to verify,” Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy told state television on May 27.
Ukraine Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a statement on Telegram that Russian forces were continuing to attack Bakhmut but that overall offensive activity had decreased.
“Yesterday and today there have not been any active battles — neither in the city nor on the flanks,” she said on May 27, adding that Moscow’s troops were instead shelling the outskirts and approaches to Bakhmut.
“The decrease in the enemy’s offensive activity is due to the fact that troops are being replaced and regrouped,” Maliar said. “The enemy is trying to strengthen its own capabilities.”
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, also told the BBC in an interview published on May 27 that Wagner mercenaries were leaving Bakhmut, but cautioned that they were “regrouping to another three locations” and “it doesn’t mean that they will stop fighting with us.”
British military intelligence said in its daily report on May 27 that Wagner fighters “have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions” in and around Bakhmut.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said on May 27 that fighting has continued in and around Bakhmut, as Russia pounded the devastated city and its surroundings with air strikes.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram on May 27 that Russian forces have continued attacking but “overall offensive activity has decreased.”
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Malyar said Ukrainian troops “firmly hold” the heights north and south of Bakhmut.
Earlier, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its daily report on May 27 that Ukrainian forces repelled 25 Russian assaults on their positions in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours.
Two people were killed and five others were wounded by Russian shelling in Donetsk region over the past 24 hours, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on May 27. One person was killed in Chasiv Yar district and one in Vasyukivka, Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram.
Fighting has been under way also around Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, where Russian forces are attempting to consolidate their tactical position, the Ukrainian military said.
A missile strike also hit a village in the eastern Kharkiv region overnight, regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said on May 27, adding that the missile caused some material damage but no victims.
Meanwhile, authorities in Russian-occupied Berdyansk, in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhya region, reported several explosions on the outskirts of the city that they blamed on Ukrainian drones. The information could not be independently verified.
Russian officials also reported drone attacks on oil installations in two regions.
In Pskov, not far from the border with Latvia and Belarus, at least one administrative building of an oil pipeline was damaged early on May 27 in an explosion caused by the attack of two drones, regional governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Telegram, without saying where the drones came from. The explosion occurred near the village of Litvinovo. Vedernikov said there were no immediate reports of casualties.
In the Tver region, northwest of Moscow, the local council reported that a drone attacked a station that serves the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline near Erokhino, some 500 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Druzhba is one of the world’s longest and densest networks of oil pipelines.
According to the Baza telegram channel, which is linked to Russian security services, drones also attacked the Belgorod region that borders Ukraine.
In the Kursk region, the local governor said shelling from Ukraine killed a construction worker near the Ukrainian border.
None of the reported attacks inside Russia could be independently verified.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters