Defiant Zelensky claims Bakhmut remains unoccupied by Russia in Ukraine war

On May 21, 2023, Ukrainian President Zelensky spoke on site in Hiroshima, Japan for the G7 summit. He claimed that the city of Bakhmut, the longest and bloodiest battle of the war since August, was “unoccupied” by Russia “as of today” despite Wagner’s founder Evgeny Prigozhin’s previous claims of victory in the city. The Ukrainian military officials confirmed that Ukrainian forces still controlled a small number of buildings on the outskirts of the city.

During a press conference on the final day of the summit, Mr. Zelensky declined to provide exact details but vowed to rebuild his homeland, comparing Bakhmut to Hiroshima, which was bombed by atomic bombs. He promised a similar reconstruction of Ukraine. He also expressed his condolences for those who lost their lives in the attack and laid a wreath for them.

There has been some confusion about Bahmut’s status before. Mr. Zelensky previously clarified that he did not say the city had fallen, but Russian fighters have captured most of Bakhmut. Wagner’s mercenaries have been concentrating their forces there for months and using tactics of sending waves of troops that have been costly for Kiev’s resistance.

In a ground report, the Institute for War Studies (ISW) corroborated General Shirzhky’s claims that Ukrainian forces were advancing on the outskirts of Bakhmut and approaching a “tactical encirclement” of the city. Analysts say that the city has little strategic value to Moscow. However, its capture would be a symbolic victory for Russia after the longest-running fighting in Ukraine. Furthermore, the ISW suggests that Wagner could only continue its sustained offensive against the city of Bakhmut after the “Russian regular army” took flank responsibility.

During the G7 summit, Mr. Zelensky also met with several world leaders to ask for more help. He expressed confidence in getting F-16s from allies but did not provide any exact numbers. The Ukrainian president promised that Russia would feel their counterattack and hinted that the Ukrainian military would continue to carry out important tasks.

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