As Battles rage, Russia Likely Controls Ukraine’s Soledar: UK
Capturing Soledar would be seen as a win for Russian forces, who have experienced months of military losses.
Russian forces likely control the eastern Ukrainian town Soledar, in the Donetsk region, having advanced for the past four days, according to the British defence ministry. A daily update by the ministry said on Tuesday said capturing Soledar is “likely an effort to envelop Bakhmut”, the highly contested city 10km (6 miles) away, where both sides have suffered heavy losses.
The defence ministry added: “Part of the fighting has focused on entrances to the 200km-long [124-mile] disused salt mine tunnels which run underneath the district. Both sides are likely concerned that they could be used for infiltration behind their lines”. Russia’s Wagner Group of mercenary fighters has been attempting to take Bakhmut and Soledar for months, despite the heavy loss of life.
Ukrainian servicemen fire a 130 mm towed field gun M-46 on a front line near Soledar
According to Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov, in Soledar, Russian forces have established fire control over the main Ukrainian supply route to the town. “This is not a complete encirclement, but normal supply along the route is impossible, [and] this is critical for defence,” he said.
Seizing Bakhmut would allow Moscow’s troops to advance to two more prominent cities, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Last week, a US official said that the head of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was also eyeing Bakhmut for its salt and gypsum mines, which are believed to extend over 160km (100 miles).
‘Everything is completely destroyed’
In his late-night address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bakhmut and Soledar were holding on despite intense attacks. “Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left,” he said. “The whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes.
“This is what madness looks like.” The intense eastern battles come as Ukrainian officials warn that Russia is preparing troops for a new offensive, possibly in the capital Kyiv. For its part, Russia says it will not mobilise more troops. Journalist reporting from Kyiv, said Soledar is of “huge strategic importance” given its sprawling underground tunnels.
“Soledar is a salt-mining town … and it has a vast network of underground tunnels, around 200km (124 miles) of tunnels, some of which are as high as 30 metres,” Stratford said. “The Russians are saying that the Ukrainians are using those tunnels as defensive positions and to store ammunition …
So we can only speculate that the fighting there [in Soledar] is particularly intense because it is of such strategic and military importance. “Whether we are going to start seeing such a thing as the siege we saw around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol many months ago remains to be seen.”