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KYIV — Russia is throwing waves of Wagner mercenaries into mass attacks on the salt-mining town of Soledar in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said, as Moscow looks to envelop the strategic front-line town of Bakhmut.
“The enemy literally steps on the corpses of their own soldiers, massively uses artillery, volley fire systems, and mortars, covering even their own soldiers with fire,” Maliar said.
In the early hours of Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed Russia’s invading army was concentrating its greatest efforts on Soledar.
“It is extremely difficult — there are almost no whole walls left,” Zelenskyy added.
The Russians need to capture Soledar to encircle Bakhmut, 10 kilometers to the south.
Moscow’s forces have been storming Bakhmut since mid-summer in a bid to disrupt Ukrainian communications, Britain’s defense ministry said in a statement. “Part of the fighting has focused on entrances to the 200km-long disused salt mine tunnels which run underneath the district. Both sides are likely concerned that they could be used for infiltration behind their lines,” the ministry added.
Bakhmut is Russia’s main military objective in the eastern region of Donbass, as well as its main obstacle for the further occupation of Donetsk province.
Although, just like Soledar, Bakhmut was largely destroyed during fighting, Russians still cannot take it, even though Russian army commanders and Wagner mercenaries’ leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin has been sending waves of hundreds of soldiers to their deaths in attempts to seize it.
Prigozhin has claimed that every house is a fortification in Bakhmut and soldiers have to fight for every 300 meters there. Russia’s merciless tactics in that area have already won the macabre title of the “meat waves of Bakhmut.”
Prigozhin has styled the occupation of Bakhmut as his personal project. He claimed that is an important logistics center and a central point of the eastern front.
“It is a unique landscape — ravines and heights, which are natural tunnels. And the icing on the cake is the system of Soledar and Bakhmut salt mines, actually a network of underground tunnels. There you not only can shelter a cluster of people at a depth of 80 meters-100 meters, but also move tanks and infantry fighting vehicles,” Prigozhin’s press service said in a statement.
On January 6, the Russians managed to break into the town and, as of now, Russians likely control of most of the settlement, the British ministry said.
On the Ukrainian side, the 46th amphibious assault brigade is fighting the overwhelming Russian forces in Soledar.
“The situation is difficult. Critical. But there are definitely opportunities. We haven’t seen such heroism, chaos, and self-sacrifice even near Kherson, honestly. People do, have done, and will keep doing incredible things,” the 46th brigade said in an official statement on Tuesday. “We hope that all this was not in vain. And it was really necessary. Otherwise, there is no other way to explain such a large number of lives left here.”
Zelenskyy sought to allay those fears. “Due to the resilience of our warriors there, in Soledar, we have gained additional time and additional forces for Ukraine,” he said.
Zelenskyy described Russian tactics near Soledar as madness. He claimed it is not clear what Russia wants to gain there. Everything in the area is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left.
“The whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes. This is what madness looks like,” Zelenskyy said.