Kyiv officials have denied Russian claims that Ukrainian forces in the flashpoint town of Soledar are surrounded by advancing Russian forces.
“town [Soledar] Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for the Eastern Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said in a televised statement on January 11.
“There is heavy fighting going on right now,” said Cherevatyi, adding that the front-line situation was “complex.”
But the spokesman’s claims contrasted with battlefield reports from Moscow.
According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, Russian paratroopers have surrounded Soledar from the north and south, encircling Ukrainian forces still in the town.
On 10 January, the UK Ministry of Defense confirmed an update that Russian forces had made “tactical progress” at Soledar and “likely controlled a large part of the settlement”.
Known for its vast salt mines, Soledal lies about five miles northeast of Bakhmut, an important shipping hub that Kyiv relies on to supply its troops along the Eastern Front.
Both towns are located in the Donetsk region, which was formally annexed to Russia along with three other regions last September.
Ukraine and its Western allies view the annexation as an illegal land grab and have vowed to regain all four lost territories.
Over the past few months, Bakhmut (Artyomovsk in Russian) has been the scene of intense ground fighting, with little territorial gain achieved by either side.
Russian forces deployed in the region include elements of the Donetsk People’s Militia and the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization commanded by the Kremlin.
Kyiv is reportedly moving troops from the Southern Front to the Donetsk combat area amid growing reports of a Russian breakthrough in Soledar.
On January 11, the Russian Ministry of Defense also claimed that the town of Pydrodne, located just southwest of Soledar, had been captured.
“Russian forces have liberated the Pydrodne community … as a result of a successful offensive operation,” Konashenkov told reporters.
The Epoch Times was unable to confirm the claim.
Pidhorodne is located halfway between Soledar and Bakhmut, raising concerns that the latter might be surrounded by Russian forces.
Military analysts say the fall of Bakhmut would seriously disrupt Ukrainian supply lines to the Eastern Front.
It would also pave the way for the Russian advance into the towns of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, key Ukrainian strongholds in the northwest.
Meeting in Ankara Brings Exchange of Prisoners
Despite ongoing fighting in Donetsk, Russian and Ukrainian officials met in Ankara on January 11 to agree terms for a prisoner exchange.
The deal, which involves the exchange of 40 prisoners, came after meetings between Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova and her Ukrainian counterpart Dmitro Rubinets.
While in Ankara, Moskalkova reportedly called on Turkey to end its long-standing policy of supplying Ukraine with Bayraktar combat drones that have been used on the battlefield against Russian forces.
In a subsequent Telegram post, Moskalkova said she had asked the head of the Turkish parliament, Mustafa Semp, to halt arms supplies to Ukraine “to avoid further escalation.”
Despite joining NATO, Turkey maintains good relations with Russia, seeking to play a mediating role in the dispute, now in its 10th month.
Last summer, Turkey brokered a landmark agreement between the warring sides that would allow Ukraine to continue grain exports through the Black Sea.
In mid-November, Ankara hosted a closed-door meeting between US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns and the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin.
In a related development, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cited a recent Foreign Policy report alleging that Turkey was supplying banned cluster munitions to Ukraine.
When asked about the credibility of the report, which cited unnamed officials to back up its claims, Peskov said it was “hard to say.”
“The number of false reports exceeds the amount of truthful information,” he told reporters on Jan. 11. “But we are monitoring all of this closely.”
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has yet to comment on the report’s allegations.
Reuters contributed to this report.