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Russia-Ukraine war: Why fight for the town of Soledar has been the 'bloodiest' yet

Control over the city will equip Russian troops to target strategic city of Bakhmut

soledar-ukraine-ap Ukrainian soldiers on their positions in the frontline near Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine | AP

Amid Russian military claims that it has captured the Ukrainian town of Soledar after a long battle, Kyiv said the fight is still on and dismissed Russia's 'information noise'. The battle for the salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine is said to be the 'bloodiest' in the war so far.

Significance of Soledar

More than 100 Russian troops were killed in the battle for Soledar during the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks earlier this week, Al Jazeera reported. Though the strategic significance of the small town is minimal, Soledar's fall would give Russia a morale boost at this stage of the war after facing a humiliating setback in the significant city of Kherson in December. Moreover, control over the city will equip Russian troops to target the strategic city of Bakhmut. Bakhmut, about 15km from Soledar, is currently under Ukrainian control. The Russian Defence Ministry said Friday that that “establishing control over Soledar makes it possible to cut off the supply routes for Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut.” Russian troops have been engaged in a long battle with Ukrainian troops for Bakhmut, that lies in the Donetsk region. The capture of Bakhmut, which sits on a strategic supply line, could possibly change the course of the war, experts have said.

The capture of Soledar would also be a win for Russia's Wagner Mercenary group, run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Fighters of the private group make up for about 10 per cent of Russia's forces in Ukraine, according to reports. Thousands of them have been recruited from Russian prisons and are currently heavily involved in the Russian campaign to capture the city of Bakhmut, BBC reported.

Soledar salt mines

Before the war, the city was known for its massive underground salt mines. The salt mines, which belong to state enterprise Artemsil, the biggest producer of salt in Europe halted production shortly after Russia’s invasion last February. In a report the BBC said that some have speculated that the Russians have also eyed Soledar for its huge resources of gypsum. The salt mines have also created large underground tunnels, going on for more than 200km, and a network of underground cities that can offer a unique kind of defence for the troops. According to reports, Prigozhin, in a statement, suggested even the infantry vehicles could be moved through the tunnels.

Zelenskyy mocks Russian forces

In a late-night message on Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has mocked infighting between the Russian defence ministry and the Wagner mercenary group over who should take credit for efforts to seize the town of Soledar. “The tough battle for the Donetsk region continues. The battle for Bakhmut and Soledar, for Kreminna, for other towns and villages in the east of our country continues,” Zelenskyy said in his address, Reuters reported.

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