Russia on Friday once again claimed that it had captured the city of Soledar in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, where heavy warfare has raged for weeks, though Ukraine has not yet conceded the battleground.
The win would be a rare victory for Moscow after it saw significant losses in Ukraine since September, when it withdrew from the Kharkiv region followed by the city of Kherson in November.
Fox News Digital could not independently verify Moscow’s Friday claim, which comes following several conflicting reports on battlefield gains in the Donbas in recent days and is Russia’s second declaration of victory over the mining town this week.
Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar took to Telegram Friday morning and said that “the night in Soledar was hot” but that fighting continues.
“The enemy threw almost all the main forces in the direction of Donetsk and maintains a high intensity of the offensive. Our fighters are bravely trying to hold the defense,” she added.
Maliar called the fight in Donetsk “a difficult phase of the war” but said she has “no doubt” that Ukrainian forces will come out on top.
The U.K. defense ministry this week warned that Moscow has re-deployed some of its elite airborne forces to the Donbas as Russia looks to reinforce its eastern flank after failing to secure Bakhmut despite months of ground warfare, shelling and air strikes.
On Friday, Russia appeared to confirm this battlefield tactic and claimed that its victory in Soledar was made possible by its airborne forces, which conducted “covert maneuver[s]” and attacked Ukrainian troop positions before blocking the city from the north and the south, according to reporting from Russian state-owned media RIA.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that capturing the salt mining town will enable Russian forces to cut supplies to Ukrainian troops on the Bakhmut axis and firm up Russia’s hold in the Donbas.
Russia’s aim is to encircle Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut.
Ukraine has denied Russia’s claims of victory in the Donbas, and Western defense officials have suggested that capturing Soledar will not hold the same amount of strategic advantage over Ukrainian troops as Moscow has suggested.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said Friday that Moscow has “over-exaggerated the importance of Soledar,” reported the Associated Press.