Ukraine has said its troops are still advancing on the flanks of the devastated city of Bakhmut, but that the “intensity” of their movement has decreased.
On Saturday Russia said it had completely taken the city but Ukrainian officials have said since then that Kyiv’s forces
still control a small part.
On Monday, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar reiterated that Ukraine had a small foothold inside the city, which has seen fierce fighting.
“Through our movement on the flanks – to the north and south – we manage to destroy the enemy,” she said in televised comments.
“By moving along the flanks and occupying certain heights there, our armed forces have made it very difficult for
the enemy to stay in the city itself.
“We are still advancing, but the intensity is somewhat reduced,” she said.
In post on the Telegram messaging app, she wrote: “The enemy’s offensive potential has been significantly reduced, huge losses have been inflicted on the enemy (and) we have gained time for certain actions which will be discussed later.”
At the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likened the devastation in Bakhmut to that inflicted on Hiroshima in Japan following the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945.
Mr Zelenskyy declared “there is nothing left” and said the invading forces had “destroyed everything”, fuelling speculation it had fallen.
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It came after Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his troops for capturing the city, which is in the Donetsk region.
The Kremlin’s defence ministry and head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had both claimed the area was under Russian control on Saturday.
But speaking at the end of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, where he had been seeking to rally international support, the Ukrainian leader said: “I clearly understand what is taking place in Bakhmut.
“I cannot share with you the tactical views of our military, of our warriors.
“But as of today we see that the country which is dozens times bigger than we are, cannot occupy us, cannot win in this war.
“Bakhmut is not occupied by Russian Federation as of today.”
Mr Zelenskyy added: “Let me be sincere that the pictures of ruined Hiroshima really remind me, totally remind me, of Bakhmut and other similar settlements and towns.
“Just the same – nothing alive left, all of the buildings have been ruined, there is no understanding where the street is, where the houses used to be.
“This is just a totally destroyed area, nothing left, not a single person left.”
Analysts have said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but would not prove decisive to the outcome of the war.
Russian forces would still face the massive task of seizing the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas.