Wagner Group begins delivery of Bachmut to Russian army

The Wagner armed group on Thursday began handing over the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhamut to the Russian military after it announced over the weekend that it had taken control of the devastated city.

The operation is taking place as the Russian army faces a delicate situation around Bakhamout after losing, according to the Ukrainians, 20 square kilometers in the north and south of this city.

It also comes after militants on Monday and Tuesday made an incursion from Ukraine into Russia's Belgorod border region and it took Moscow more than 24 hours to repel them, also highlighting the difficulties faced by its armed forces.

The commander of the Wagner armed group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Thursday in a video distributed by his press office: "We are in the process of withdrawing our units from Bachmut today. Between now and the first of May, the majority of them (units) will return to rear bases. We will return our positions to the military, with ammunition and everything that is in them."

Prigozhin was seen speaking to several of his fighters, some of whom complained about the need to repair their military equipment. He said some Wagner operatives could stay in the city to support Russian forces if they encounter any difficulties.

"We withdraw, we rest, we prepare and then we take on new missions," he said.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Ghana Maliar confirmed that Wagner's men had left their positions to Russian forces "in the vicinity of Bachmut."

"Wagner units are still in the city of Bachmut. Our soldiers are taking control of a neighborhood in the southwestern suburbs," he said, while Kiev still denies losing the entire city.

Wagner's forces spearheaded the battle for Bachmut, which began months ago and is the longest since Russia's war on Ukraine began in February 2022.

Wagner forces and the Russian army announced at the end of last week that they had completed control of the city, which has been almost completely destroyed since the fighting began.

Prigozhin acknowledged on Wednesday that about 10,50 of the <>,<> prisoners he recruited from Russian prisons had been killed in Ukraine on the frontline of the battle of Bachmut.

Prigozhin, who spent years in prison during the Soviet era, last year recruited prisoners to fight with his group and promised detainees to cancel their sentences if they survived the fights.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied losing Pakhmut, while his army said it still controlled a small enclave in the west of the city and launched attacks on Russian lines.

Ukraine is therefore betting on progress in the vicinity of this city in the hope of achieving a "tactical encirclement".

For its part, the Ukrainian air force spoke at night about a new Russian attack by 36 Iranian-made Shahid drones, all of which were destroyed, stressing that they were targeting "without a doubt" infrastructure and military sites in southern Ukraine.

Zelenskiy said on Telegram that Moscow "continues to try to intimidate Ukraine" and launched 36 rallies overnight, "but none of them reached their goal", thanking his country's air defenses.

The Ukrainian Air Force declared that "the enemy was undoubtedly targeting basic infrastructure and military sites in the south of the country."

Pro-Russian authorities in Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, said they had shot down six Ukrainian marches overnight.