By SUSIE BLANN (Associated Press)
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian military might decide to pull troops back from the key stronghold of Bakhmut, an adviser to Ukraine’s president said Wednesday as Russia pursued a bloody, months-long offensive to capture the city.
“Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options. So far, they’ve held the city, but if need be, they will strategically pull back,” Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told CNN. “We’re not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing.”
The battle for Bakhmut, in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance as defenders hold out against relentless shelling and waves of Russian troops taking heavy casualties in a months-long campaign to capture it.
Rodnyansky noted that Russia was using the best troops of the Wagner Group to try to encircle the city. The private military company known for brutal tactics is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire with longtime links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin said Wednesday that he so far had seen no signs of a Ukrainian withdrawal from the city. He maintained that Kyiv has in fact been reinforcing its positions there.
“The Ukrainian army is deploying additional troops and is doing what it can to retain control of the city,” Prigozhin said. “Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are offering fierce resistance, and the fighting is getting increasingly bloody by day.”
Recent drone footage shows the scale of devastation in the city, while Zelenskyy has described it as “destroyed.”
Meanwhile, one of Zelenskyy’s top advisers, Mykhailo Podolyak, denied on Wednesday that Ukraine had used drones to attack Russian territory following Russian official statements that Ukraine had targeted infrastructure deep inside Russia.
“Ukraine does not strike on the territory of the Russian Federation. Ukraine is waging a defensive war with the aim of de-occupying all its territories,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter, suggesting the targeting of Russian infrastructure was the result of “internal attacks.”
Ukraine’s western allies have discouraged Ukraine from attacking targets in Russia proper to avoid escalation of the conflict, and Podolyak’s statement could reflect an attempt by Kyiv to maintain a degree of deniability in view of those Western concerns.
In the past, Ukrainian officials have stopped short of claiming responsibility for attacks in Russia, but also insisted that Ukraine has the right to strike any target on Russian territory in response to its aggression.
Asked about Podolyak’s denial, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “We don’t believe it.”
Pictures of one drone that fell near the village of Gubastovo, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow, showed it was a small Ukrainian-made model with a reported range of up to 800 kilometers (nearly 500 miles), but no capacity to carry a large load of explosives.
In the Russian Bryansk region, local Gov. Aleksandr Bogomaz said in a Telegram post that Russian forces had shot down another Ukrainian drone on Tuesday. Officials said the drones caused no injuries and did not inflict any significant damage.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday it prevented a massive drone attack on Crimea. According to Russian state media, six drones were shot down by air defense forces, while four more were disabled by electronic warfare systems.
In Ukraine, at least nine civilians were killed and 12 others were wounded across the country on Tuesday, the Ukrainian president’s office reported Wednesday morning.
Fierce fighting continued in the eastern Donetsk province, with the cities of Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Vuhledar, along with 17 other towns and villages, coming under intense Russian shelling. “Shelling does not stop along the entire front line,” the presidential office said in a regular update.
In the country’s easternmost Luhansk province, regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai said that the Ukrainian military blew up a warehouse in Russian-held Kadiivka on the site of a factory where Russian forces were storing trucks packed with ammunition.
The Russian army attempted to break through Ukrainian defenses in Bilohorivka and near Kreminna, “but the Russian attack was repelled,” Haidai said.
Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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