Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner’s mercenary group, announced that his forces would withdraw from Bakhmut by June 1 and hand over their positions to regular units of the Russian army. File Photo EPA/Sergei Ilnitsky
May 25 (UPI) — Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner’s mercenary group, has announced that his forces are withdrawing from Bakhmut after capturing the city and will hand over their positions to regular Russian army units by June 1.
“Today we are pulling units out of Bakhmut,” Prigozhin said in a video posted by Telegram.
“We will hand over our positions, ammunition, everything, including dry rations, to the army,” Prigozhin said.
The BBC has geo-located the footage to confirm that it was filmed in eastern Bakhmut.
Before declaring the city captured, Prigozhin asked for more ammunition in a video showing dead fighters lined up outside and condemned the Russian Defense Ministry for not providing enough support.
Prigozhin stated that his forces must have captured Bakhmut on Saturday.
“The operation to capture Bakhmut lasted 224 days,” Prigozhin said in a Telegram post.
While Wagner appears to have captured most or all of the city, Ukrainian forces have advanced along the flanks of the city to higher ground that would leave Russian troops in Bakhmut vulnerable to artillery fire.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed that Wagner’s forces had been replaced by regular army units, but also insisted on Thursday that Ukrainian fighters were still holed up in enclaves southwest of Bakhmut.
“The enemy replaced Wagner’s units in the suburbs with regular army soldiers. There are still suitable Wagner forces in the city,” said Maliaras in a Telegram message.
Although the numbers cannot be confirmed, unnamed Ukrainian military sources told the New York Times. that about 20,000 Russian fighters were killed in the conquest of the small town.
Earlier this week, Prigozhin gave a similar death toll, saying he lost about 20,000 men after taking the city.
Bakhmut’s fall, after 10 months of Russian offensives and heavy spending, has been overshadowed by an incursion in which Russian opposition fighters are battling Russian government forces in Russia’s Belgorod region.
The Russian military has released footage purporting to show airstrikes against opposition fighters in the Belgorod region.
Ukraine has denied any connection to the hack.
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