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Kiev says troops fighting ‘stubbornly’ in Soledar, but admits situation ‘difficult’

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BAKHMUT: Ukraine said on Thursday its forces were fighting to retain control of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region but cautioned it was coming up against “difficult” resistance from Russian troops.

The Kremlin has made capturing the industrial region of Donetsk its primary objective after nearly one year of fighting that has seen its forces capitulate on larger goals like seizing the capital.

“The fiercest and heaviest fighting is continuing today in the area of Soledar,” Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar told reporters. “Despite the difficult situation, Ukrainian soldiers are fighting stubbornly,” she added.

Both sides have conceded heavy losses in the fight for Soledar and the nearby larger town of Bakhmut, also key to Russia’s aim to wrest all of Donetsk away from Ukraine.

On Wednesday, Moscow announced a major military reshuffle, putting Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov in charge of its operations in Ukraine.

A Moscow-based defence analyst said that appointing an army chief in charge of Ukraine’s operation was an “unprecedented decision” that showed “very serious problems” on the battlefield. “This has not happened since 1941, when Marshal Georgy Zhukov was sent to the front to command.”

Russian soldier jailed

A Russian court sentenced a 24-year-old professional soldier to five years in prison for refusing to fight in Ukraine, officials said on Thursday.

The soldier, “not wanting to take part in a special military operation”, did not report for duty in May 2022, said the press service for courts in the region of Bashkortostan in the southern Urals.

Law enforcement located the man, Marsel Kandarov, in September, the statement added.

Separately, a military tribunal said it sentenced Kandarov to five years behind bars for evading military service during mobilisation for more than a month.

Russia announced the mobilisation of 300,000 men in late September to buttress Russian troops on the ground in Ukraine.

The announcement triggered an exodus of men from Russia, with many fleeing to neighbouring countries including Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan.

Critics say many mobilised men hardly had any battlefield experience and have received little training before being sent to the front.

Separately, a military tribunal in Moscow sentenced a soldier to five years and six months in a penal colony for “beating” an officer during an argument, Russian state news agency TASS reported on Wednesday.

TASS said the soldier expressed “his dissatisfaction” with the training of mobilised servicemen outside Moscow.

While speaking, he blew cigarette smoke into an officer’s face, who responded by pushing him away. The private then pushed the officer in the chest.

A video of the incident that circulated online showed the soldier complaining of poor training, using obscenities, and calling the drills an “imitation”.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2023


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