Kyiv confirmed Wednesday that it has pulled back the last of its troops defending the eastern mining town of Soledar — weeks after Russian paramilitaries claimed to have taken the city.
Ukrainian forces have retreated to prepared defensive positions outside the town, meant to “preserve the lives of personnel,” Ukrainian military spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi said.
Ukrainian authorities did not indicate when the retreat took place.
Soledar, which sits atop a massive salt mine some five miles from the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk province, was attacked earlier this month by paramilitaries with Russia’s quasi-state Wagner Group.
The area around Bakhmut has been the site of bloody battles for months — a contrast to the relatively stagnant front line elsewhere in the country.
The Kremlin has portrayed the capture of Soledar as a strategic foothold and a crucial step in occupying more of the Donbas, the industrial region of eastern Ukraine.
Western analysts and Ukrainian authorities alike have questioned the strategic importance of Soledad and nearby Bakhmut.
Wagner Group moneyman and Putin crony Yevgeny Prigozhin argued earlier this month that the salt mines constituted “a network of underground cities … [with the ability to hold] a big group of people at a depth of 80-100 meters, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move about.”
But the oligarch has a long history of benefiting from mining operations in the regions where the Wagner Group operates, and it remains unclear if Soledad was a Kremlin priority or a personal prize for Prigozhin.
Should Russia capture Bakhmut, five miles to the southwest, it would put pressure on Ukrainian supply lines. But Ukrainian defenders have been dug in around what’s left of the city for months.
Wednesday’s acknowledgement of Ukrainian retreat marks the first real battlefield loss for Kyiv since the beginning of its successful counteroffensives last fall.
But the Russian victory may ultimately prove pyrrhic, with the Institute for the Study of War — a DC-based think tank — saying the Kremlin has “overexaggerated the importance of Soledar,” and that the months of battle in the vicinity have exhausted Wagner’s troops and resources.
Meanwhile, the official line from the Kremlin has downplayed Wagner’s involvement in the fight for Soledar, and sought to frame the victory as one earned by Russia’s regular forces commanded by the Ministry of Defense.
Russia’s bombardment campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure continued, with four missile strikes, 26 airstrikes and over 100 rocket attacks reported between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning.
Attacks were reported in the Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provinces.
Regional officials in Kherson province said a maternity hospital, a school and a clinic had been struck in the eponymous capital city of Kherson, along with several residential buildings and the city’s port.
With Post wires