President Zelensky Denies Russian Occupation of Bakhmut During G7 Summit

Ukraine’s President compares Bakhmut to Hiroshima, vows country’s reconstruction

In a defiant statement made during his visit to Hiroshima for the G7 summit, President Volodymyr Zelensky firmly denied the Russian occupation of Bakhmut, countering claims made by a Moscow-backed mercenary group. While Ukrainian military sources confirmed their control of a few buildings on the city’s outskirts, Zelensky refrained from providing precise details during a press conference on the summit’s final day. Emphasizing that Bakhmut was “not occupied” by Russia as of that day, he dismissed any potential misinterpretation of his words.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner group, had earlier claimed victory in Bakhmut, but Zelensky contested this assertion. In a video posted by Prigozhin, the Wagner fighters who have led the Russian assault on Bakhmut proclaimed full control over the city. However, Zelensky likened Bakhmut to Hiroshima, which endured atomic bombing during World War Two, and pledged a similar reconstruction for Ukraine.

During his visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Zelensky paid tribute to the victims of the 1945 atomic bomb attack by laying a wreath. Drawing parallels between the devastated Hiroshima and present-day Bakhmut, he expressed the aspiration to rebuild Ukrainian cities in a comparable manner.

Amidst some confusion regarding the status of Bakhmut, Zelensky’s earlier statement that “today Bakhmut is only in our hearts” was clarified by his office, asserting that he did not imply the city had fallen. Nevertheless, Russian fighters appeared to exert control over most parts of Bakhmut, with the Wagner mercenaries employing a persistent and costly tactic of sending waves of fighters to erode Kyiv’s resistance. Ukrainian forces resisted calls for a tactical withdrawal, deeming it a Pyrrhic victory for the Russians. Zelensky also alluded to the ongoing “important work” being carried out by his troops in the region.

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, stated that Ukrainian forces were making progress on the outskirts of Bakhmut, moving closer to a “tactical encirclement” of the city. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) supported these claims, reporting geolocated footage showing a Ukrainian brigade striking unspecified Russian forces south of Klishchiivka, situated 7km southwest of Bakhmut. While Bakhmut holds limited strategic value for Moscow, its capture would be a symbolic victory for Russia in the ongoing war in Ukraine. However, Ukraine is expected to employ a similar strategy to previous counter-offensives, aiming to reclaim lost territories.

The G7 summit witnessed President Zelensky meeting with several world leaders to advocate for increased support for Ukraine. As a result of his persistent efforts, the US announced its decision to permit its Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter jets, including American-made F-16s. However, no country has yet committed to providing these jets. When asked about the commencement of Ukraine’s delayed spring counter-offensive, Zelensky responded that Russia would feel it when it occurred. The war in Ukraine remained a prominent topic throughout the three-day summit, with Zelensky striving to garner further international assistance.

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