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Ukraine denies claim by Russia that it has taken Bakhmut and says fighting is continuing

Ukraine has denied claims by the Russian mercenary group Wagner that it has seized full control of Bakhmut.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group, claimed that his forces had seized the town around lunchtime on Saturday.

Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s defence minister, dismissed his statement and said fighting is continuing in the town, but warned the situation is “critical”.

In a post on the Telegram messaging app, Ms Maliar said: “As of now, our defenders control some industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area and the private sector.”

Prigozhin made the claim in a video where he was seen in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners.

“Today, at 12 noon, Bakhmut was completely taken.

“We completely took the whole city, from house to house.”

Prigozhin also taunted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy who is today taking part in a Group of Seven summit in Japan on Saturday alongside world leaders including US President Joe Biden.

Addressing Mr Zelensky, he said: “Today when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of his head, say hi to him from me.”

Prigozhin said his forces would withdraw from Bakhmut from May 25 for rest and retraining, handing over control to the regular Russian army.

Bakhmut has been the focus of the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with fighting raging since last summer.

Prigozhin’s victory claim followed fierce fighting around the city in the past week. Ukraine previously said it pushed back some Russian forces.

The UK Ministry of Defence said on Saturday it was “highly likely” that Russia had deployed up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut sector following Ukrainian tactical gains on the flanks of the town.

In a tweet it said this represented a “notable commitment by the Russian command,” adding: “Russia’s leadership likely continue to see capturing Bakhmut as the key immediate war aim which would allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict.”

It comes after the White House announced yesterday the US and its and its allies will provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

Mr Biden also told G7 leaders that Washington supports joint allied training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.

The Kremlin responded by saying any move by Western countries to supply Ukraine with the fighter jets would carry “colossal risks”.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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