Ukraine unit says Russian brigade flees Bakhmut outskirts
FILE PHOTO: A Ukrainian service member walks near residential buildings damaged by a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the front line town of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine April 21, 2023. REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva
KYIV (Reuters) - A Ukrainian military unit said on Wednesday it had routed a Russian infantry brigade from territory near Bakhmut, claiming to confirm an account by the head of Russia's Wagner private army that the Russian forces had fled.
Moscow has not commented on the reports from either side that its 72nd Separate Motor-rifle Brigade had abandoned its positions on the southwestern outskirts of Bakhmut.
The Russian ministry of defence did not immediately reply to a request from Reuters for comment, and Reuters could not independently confirm the situation in the area.
A Russian brigade is typically formed of several thousand troops. The eastern Ukrainian city has been the primary target of Moscow's huge winter offensive and scene of the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.
Russian mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has repeatedly accused Moscow's regular armed forces of failing to adequately support his private army that led the fight in Bakhmut, said on Tuesday that the Russian brigade had abandoned its positions.
"Our army is fleeing. The 72nd Brigade pissed away three square km this morning, where I had lost around 500 men," Prigozhin said.
In a statement overnight, Ukraine's Third Separate Assault Brigade said: "It's official. Prigozhin's report about the flight of Russia's 72nd Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade from near Bakhmut and the '500 corpses' of Russians left behind is true."
"The Third Assault Brigade is grateful for the publicity about our success at the front."
Early on Wednesday the unit, formed from Ukraine's nationalist Azov Battalion, reposted a video of one of Azov's founders, Andriy Biletsky, who said his forces had "defeated" the Russian brigade.
"In fact, the 6th and 7th squadrons of this brigade were almost entirely destroyed, brigade intelligence was destroyed, large number of fighting vehicles were destroyed, a considerable number of prisoners were taken," he said.
"The attacks were implemented within a territory 3 km wide and 2.6 km deep, and this entire territory is completely liberated from the Russian occupying forces."
Ukraine's General Staff, which typically withholds such detail from its regular reports, gave no specific account of fighting in the area, apart from saying that Russia had "conducted an unsuccessful offensive in the city of Bakhmut".
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Olena Harmash; Editing by Peter Graff)