Ukrainian unit says Russian brigade fleeing from the outskirts of Bakhmut

KIEV (Reuters) – A Ukrainian military unit said on Wednesday it had defeated a Russian infantry battalion from an area near Bakhmut, claiming to confirm the account of the commander of Russia’s private army, Wagner, that Russian forces had fled.

Moscow did not comment on reports from either side that its 72nd separate motorized rifle brigade had abandoned its positions on the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, and Reuters could not independently confirm the situation in the area.

The Russian brigade usually consists of several thousand troops. The city in eastern Ukraine was the main target of Moscow’s massive winter offensive and the scene of some of Europe’s bloodiest ground battles since World War Two.

Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has repeatedly accused Moscow’s regular armed forces of failing to provide enough support for his private army that led the fighting in Bakhmut, said on Tuesday that the Russian brigade had abandoned its positions.

“Our army is fleeing. The 72nd Brigade lost three square kilometers this morning, losing about 500 men,” Prigozhin said.

“It’s official. Prigozhin’s report about the flight of Russia’s 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Pakhmut and ‘500 bodies’ of trailing Russians is correct,” the Ukrainian 3rd Separate Assault Brigade said in a statement released last night.

“The 3rd Assault Brigade is grateful for the publicity about our success at the front.”

Early Wednesday, the unit, which was formed from the Ukrainian nationalist Azov Battalion, retweeted a video of one of the founders of Azov, Andrei Biletsky, who said his forces had “defeated” the Russian brigade.

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“In fact, the sixth and seventh squadrons of this brigade were almost completely destroyed, the intelligence of the brigade was destroyed, a large number of combat vehicles were destroyed, and a large number of prisoners were captured,” he said.

He added, “The attacks were carried out in an area 3 kilometers wide and 2.6 kilometers deep, and this whole area is completely liberated from the Russian occupation forces.”

The Ukrainian General Staff, which withholds such details from its periodic reports, gave no specific account of the fighting in the area, except to say that Russia “launched an unsuccessful offensive in the city of Bakhmut”.

(Reporting by Tom Palmforth and Olenna Harmash) Editing by Peter Graf

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