The Russian and Ukrainian militaries said there was heavy fighting Wednesday in Soledar, countering an earlier claim by Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group that it had taken control of the town in eastern Ukraine.
Hours after the Wagner Group claim, the Russian military said fighting was ongoing with Russian airborne units surrounding the town on the north and south.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern military command told Ukrainian television that the situation in Soledar was “complicated.”
The area is one of the most active in the conflict, making it difficult for an independent assessment of the situation.
Britain’s defense ministry said Tuesday that Wagner and Russian forces were probably in control of most of Soledar, which is located near Bakhmut, one of Russia’s major targets at this stage of its invasion.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news briefing Wednesday that Ukraine’s defense in the Bakhmut area “shows once again the bravery of Ukrainian forces as they fight to defend their homeland,” and how vital it is to boost military support for Ukraine.
"Our support makes a real difference on the ground and at this key juncture of the war we must do even more even faster,” Stoltenberg said.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said late Tuesday a U.S. decision to train Ukrainian troops on the use of the Patriot missile defense system at Fort Sill in Oklahoma confirms “Washington’s de facto involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.”
“The real goal of the administration is to inflict on Russia as much damage on the battlefield as possible, using Ukrainians as proxies,” Antonov told reporters, according to a statement posted by the Russian embassy.
Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder announced Tuesday during a briefing at the Pentagon that the training at Fort Sill could begin “as soon as next week.”
“The training will prepare approximately 90 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers to operate, maintain and sustain the defensive system over a training course expected to last several months,” Ryder said, adding that a Patriot battery would give Ukraine another capability to defend its people against Russia’s ongoing aerial assaults.
Fort Sill is home to the U.S. Army’s field artillery school.
Ryder said the U.S. would look for ways to “accelerate the training timeline” so that Ukrainians could return to the battlefield as quickly as possible.
Last week, the Pentagon announced it would send 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine as part of a new round of military aid to Kyiv to help Ukrainian forces fight off an invasion by Russia.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Ryder said training on the Bradleys would be part of the combined arms training that Ukrainians would complete in Germany.
The Bradleys will come with hundreds of TOW anti-tank guided missiles and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to an official document shared with VOA before Friday’s announcement.
“It's not a tank, but it's a tank killer,” Ryder said last week.
No world war
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made further pleas for Western military aid in his nightly address Tuesday, saying it is important to bolster Ukraine’s forces before a Russian escalation.
“The free world has everything necessary to stop Russian aggression and bring the terrorist state to a historic defeat,” Zelenskyy said. “And it is important not only for us. It is important for global democracy, for all those who value freedom.”
He also made an appearance at Tuesday night’s Golden Globes awards ceremony, saying in a separate video message to television and movie stars gathered in California, “There will be no third world war.”
Zelenskyy expressed confidence his country will prevail, saying “the tide is turning and it is already clear who will win.”
“Ukraine will stop the Russian aggression on our land, we will make it together with the whole free world,” he said. “And I hope that all of you will be with us on the victorious day, the day of our victory.”
Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters.