During his visit to Hiroshima, Japan for the G7 summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vehemently denied the Russian occupation of Bakhmut, a city in Ukraine, despite claims made by a Moscow-backed mercenary group. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner group, had previously declared victory in Bakhmut. However, Ukrainian military sources informed the BBC that they still maintained control over a few buildings on the outskirts of the city.
At a press conference on the last day of the summit, Zelensky refrained from providing specific details but insisted that as of that day, Bakhmut was “not occupied” by Russia. He emphasized that there were no alternate interpretations of his words, clarifying his earlier statements about the city’s status.
In a video released on Saturday, Prigozhin proclaimed that his fighters, who led the Russian assault on Bakhmut, had complete control over the city. Zelensky, drawing a parallel between Bakhmut and Hiroshima, promised a similar process of reconstruction for his country. During his visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Zelensky laid a wreath in remembrance of those killed in the 1945 atomic bomb attack.
The situation in Bakhmut had initially caused confusion after Zelensky stated that “today Bakhmut is only in our hearts.” His office later clarified that he did not imply the city had fallen. Nevertheless, Russian forces appeared to control most of Bakhmut, as the Wagner mercenaries focused their efforts there over the past months, gradually wearing down Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainian forces, though resisting calls for a tactical withdrawal, acknowledged that a complete Russian victory in Bakhmut would come at a high cost. Zelensky hinted that his troops were engaged in important activities in the area. The Ukrainian ground forces commander confirmed advances on the outskirts of Bakhmut, moving closer to a “tactical encirclement” of the city.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) supported the Ukrainian claims, reporting that geolocated footage showed Ukrainian forces striking unspecified Russian forces south of Klishchiivka, 7km southwest of Bakhmut. While Bakhmut holds little strategic value for Moscow, capturing the city would be a symbolic victory for Russia in the longest battle of the Ukrainian conflict thus far. However, Ukraine has demonstrated resilience in the past, reclaiming territories after losing cities like Severodonetsk and Lysychansk last summer.
The G7 summit centered on the war in Ukraine, and Zelensky used the opportunity to seek increased support from world leaders. The United States announced its intention to permit its Western allies to supply advanced fighter jets, including American-made F-16s, to Ukraine. However, no country has committed to providing the jets thus far. Zelensky expressed confidence that they would be working towards securing the F-16s, but the details were not yet known. Regarding the long-awaited spring counter-offensive, Zelensky assured that Russia would feel the impact when it commenced.