May 24. 2024. 6:18

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Russian warlord says ‘pincers closing’ on Bakhmut as Ukraine partially evacuates liberated town

A Russian warlord called on Kyiv’s troops to abandon the Donetsk-region city of Bakhmut or face being trapped there by his mercenaries, as Ukrainian officials ordered some residents of the eastern town of Kupiansk to evacuate due to intense shelling by Moscow’s forces.

Russian president Vladimir Putin convened his country’s security council a day after gunmen allegedly raided a village near the border with Ukraine, while in neighbouring Belarus a court loyal to veteran dictator and Kremlin ally Alexander Lukashenko sentenced Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist Ales Bialiatski to 10 years in prison.

“Units of the Wagner private military group have practically surrounded Bakhmut. Only one road is left [open]. The pincers are closing,” the mercenary group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a video message to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“If before, the professional Ukrainian army was fighting against us, today we are seeing more and more old people and children. They are fighting, but their life near Bakhmut is short: only a day or two. Give them a chance to leave the city – the city is practically surrounded,” he added.

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Russian warlord says ‘pincers closing’ on Bakhmut as Ukraine partially evacuates liberated town


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Ukraine’s military responded by releasing photographs of senior commander Oleksandr Syrskyi visiting troops while “working with units that are leading the defence of Bakhmut”.

“The Russian occupiers threw the best-prepared units of the Wagner group and other regular units of the Russian army into capturing the city. Intense fighting is taking place in and around the city,” the military said on social media.

The Wagner group consists of a core of experienced and well-supplied Russian military veterans and many thousands of convicts recruited from prison on a promise of a pardon if they survive the battlefield. Ukraine says they are being used as “cannon fodder”.

Speaking in a video recording over the whistle and crash of incoming shells, Robert Brovdy, the head of a Ukrainian drone unit, said his group had received an order to leave Bakhmut urgently after being there for 110 days.

Bakhmut has been the main target for Moscow’s forces for several months, but its troops are also attacking other points along the frontline in eastern Ukraine and shelling Kyiv-controlled towns such as Kupiansk in Kharkiv region, which was liberated last September.

“Mandatory evacuation of families with children and residents with limited mobility has begun … taking into account the unstable security situation due to constant shelling of the [Kupiansk] district’s territory by Russian troops,” Kharkiv regional council announced.

Russia cannot be allowed to wage war with impunity, says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said while attending Quad Group forum in Delhi.

Mr Putin called a meeting of Russia’s security council on Friday to discuss what he called “one very important question: measures for the anti-terrorism protection of places under the jurisdiction of law-enforcement agencies”.

Moscow claimed on Thursday that Ukrainian gunmen had crossed the border and attacked a village, killing two people. Kyiv denied involvement and a group called the Russian volunteer corps said its members had performed the raid to “show compatriots there is hope, that free Russian people with weapons in their hands can fight the regime”.

The Kremlin’s full invasion of Ukraine has been accompanied by massive repression of dissenting voices in Russia, and its close ally Belarus has become a staging post for Moscow’s military while continuing to crush opponents of Mr Lukashenko.

A Minsk court jailed several anti-Lukashenko activists including Mr Bialiatski (60) – co-founder of the Viasna (Spring) human rights group and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize last October – for allegedly smuggling money and financing protests.

After he was jailed for a decade, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock denounced the charges and trial as “a farce” and said the men had been imprisoned for their “commitment to the rights, dignity and freedom of people in Belarus”.