Ukraine: Soledar battles rage despite Wagner claim

STORY: Russian and Ukrainian forces were engaged in intense fighting on Wednesday (January 11) over the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, a stepping stone in Moscow's push to capture the entire Donbas region.

The Russians appeared to have the upper hand.

Moscow's defense ministry said airborne units had cut off Soledar from the north and south.

And the mercenary group Wagner, which has spearheaded the assault, said on Tuesday (January 10) it now controlled the small salt-mining town despite pockets of Ukrainian resistance in the center.

But Ukraine's military denied Soledar had fallen and said its defensive lines had not been breached.

Reuters was able to verify the location of this outdoor footage released by Ukraine's Armed Forces on Monday (January 9), but not the date it was filmed.

It also purported to show Ukraine's Colonel General, Oleksandr Syrskyi, speaking to soldiers in the region.

Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern military command, told Ukrainian television the intensity of the battles was reminiscent of World War Two.

And Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stopped short of claiming victory, acknowledging heavy Russian losses.

Victory in Soledar would have symbolic, military and commercial value for Moscow after battlefield setbacks in recent months.

And provide a base to intensify attacks on Bakhmut.

Russian state media said Wagner had taken over the town's cavernous salt mines, which once produced salt exported to 20 countries.

This photograph posted on Wagner's Telegram channel appeared to show the head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and his fighters inside them.

Reuters has been unable to independently verify the situation in Soledar because of the fierce fighting.

But a Reuters photographer who has reached the outskirts in recent days said many residents had fled along roads out of the town in perishing cold.

They saw ambulances waiting and chaotic scenes in field hospitals.