Zelenskiy welcomes ‘news we have been waiting for’ from Bakhmut

Russians ‘releasing information about a counteroffensive to distract from their defeat in Bakhmut’, says Kyiv

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed on Monday what he called “the news we have been waiting for” from troops fighting in and around the shattered eastern city of Bakhmut, but gave no further details.

“I am grateful to each soldier, to all our defenders, men and women, who have given us today the news we have been waiting for. Fine job, soldiers in the Bakhmut sector!” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

He said Russia was reacting “hysterically” to any action undertaken by Ukrainian forces and singled out two units who “skilfully, decisively and effectively defend our positions, destroy the occupiers and, most importantly, move forward”.

On Sunday night, Russia said its forces had halted all attempted advances by Ukrainian troops in Donetsk.


Ukraine earlier said it was retaking territory around Bakhmut but brushed off Russians claims that it had now begun a major counteroffensive and suffered heavy losses at the hands of Moscow’s invasion force.

“The enemy launched a large-scale offensive from the morning of June 4th on five sectors of the front in the south Donetsk area,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Monday.

“The enemy’s objective was to break through our defences on what is, in its opinion, the most vulnerable sector of the front. The enemy failed in its tasks and had no success,” he added, claiming that the operation had cost Ukraine’s army more than 250 personnel, 16 tanks and more than 20 other armoured vehicles.

Vladimir Rogov, a pro-Moscow politician in the partly occupied Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine, said Kyiv’s forces were also trying to break through Russian lines in that area, in a bid to push to the Sea of Azov and sever the land link between the Russian border and Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula which the Kremlin annexed in 2014.

Ukraine has been amassing weaponry and ammunition from western allies ahead of a planned counteroffensive, but its officials have made clear that there will be no announcement of the start of large-scale operations to liberate occupied territory.

“Why are the Russians actively releasing information about a counteroffensive? Because they need to distract attention from their defeat in the Bakhmut area,” Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said on Monday, referring to a road and rail junction in Donetsk region that has been devastated by months of intense fighting.

“What is happening now? We are continuing the defence [of Ukraine] that began on February 24th, 2022. The defensive operation includes everything, including counteroffensive actions. So, in some areas we are moving to offensive actions,” she added.

“The Bakhmut area, in particular, remains the epicentre of hostilities. There we are moving along quite a wide front. We have success. We control the dominant heights. The enemy is on the defensive and wants to hold its position. In the south, the enemy is on the defensive. Fighting of local significance continues.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group that claimed to have seized Bakhmut for Russia last month, said Ukraine had retaken part of the nearby village of Berkhivka, as Kyiv’s military bids to take the flanks around the ruined city and surround its occupiers.

“Now part of the settlement of Berkhivka has already been lost and the troops are quietly fleeing. It’s a disgrace,” said Mr Prigozhin, who has repeatedly accused Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu and its top general Valery Gerasimov of mishandling the war.

“Shoigu, Gerasimov, I call on you to come to the front and use your pistols to get the army moving forward. Come on, you can do it! And if not, then you’ll die as heroes,” he added.

The Wagner group posted a video on Sunday showing a man identified as a lieutenant colonel in Russia’s 72nd motorised rifle brigade admitting that his unit had fired on and disarmed members of the mercenary group out of “personal enmity” towards them.

Russia’s military is under scrutiny not only for its performance in Ukraine, but over its failure to stop anti-Kremlin Russian guerrillas from infiltrating the country from Ukrainian territory.

Two groups that entered the border region of Belgorod over the weekend published footage of what they said were captured Russian troops who would be handed over to Kyiv. One of the groups said they still controlled the Russian border village of Novaya Tavolzhanka on Monday. Additional reporting: Reuters

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe