Ukrainian forces withdraw from Donbass city after assault

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces conducted an organized retreat from a town in the eastern Donbass region, an official said Wednesday, in what is a rare but modest triumph on the Kremlin battlefield after a series setbacks in its invasion which began almost 11 months ago.

The Ukrainian army withdrew from the mining town of Soledar to “preserve the lives of the personnel”, Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Ukrainian forces in the east, told The Associated Press.

The soldiers retreated to previously prepared defensive positions, he said.

Moscow has described the Battle of Soledar, which lies near the town of Bakhmut, as the key to capturing all of Donbass.

The feat brings Russian forces closer to Bakhmut, but military analysts say Soledar’s capture is more symbolic than strategic.

The Ukrainian army, which withstood Soledar against a months-long assault from superior Russian forces, said its fierce defense of the eastern stronghold had helped pin down Russian forces.

Russia claimed almost two weeks ago that it had taken Soledar, but Ukraine denied it.

Many Russian troops around Soledar are owned by private Russian military contractor Wagner Group, and the fighting was reportedly bloody.

Since its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has prioritized full control of Donbass – a region made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia has seized most of of Lugansk, but about half of Donetsk remains. under Ukrainian control.

Taking control of the city would potentially allow Russian forces to cut Ukrainian forces’ supply lines in Bakhmut, although the strength of Ukraine’s new defensive positions is not known.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said earlier this month that the fall of Soledar would not mark “an operationally significant development and is unlikely to occur.” portends an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut”.

The institute said Russian information operations have “exaggerated the importance of Soledar”, which is a small settlement. He also argued that the long and difficult battle contributed to the depletion of Russian forces.

Perhaps more worrying for Moscow, Western military aid to Ukraine is now ramping up with the delivery of tanks.

Elsewhere, Russian forces continued to strike Ukrainian areas, particularly in the south and east.

Russian strikes injured 10 civilians in the eastern province of Donetsk on Tuesday, said Pavlo Kyrylenko, the province’s governor.

Five were injured when Russian shells hit buildings, he said.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Wednesday that in the past 24 hours Russian forces have launched four missile strikes, 26 air strikes and more than 100 attacks from rocket salvo systems.

Russian forces are focusing their efforts on establishing control of Donetsk province, conducting offensive operations around the besieged towns of Bakhmut, Lyman and Avdiivka, and the village of Novopavlivka, according to spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun.

In addition to Donetsk, Russian attacks hit settlements in the northeastern provinces of Kharkiv and Sumy, northern Chernihiv, far eastern Luhansk, southeastern Zaporizhzhia and southern provinces of Kherson.

Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president who went from professional comedian to internationally recognized warlord, turned 45 on Wednesday.

His wife, first lady Olena Zelenska, said that although he is the same person as when they met at 17, “something has changed: you smile a lot less now.”

“I wish you had more reasons to smile. And you know what it takes. We all do,” she wrote in a tweet.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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