The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner has said his troops are close to the center of the frontline town of Bakhmut.
In a video posted to the messaging app Telegram on Saturday, Yevgeny Prigozhin is seen standing on the roof of a tall building in what he claims is Bakhmut.
“This is the city administration building, this is the center of the city,” Prigozhin said in the video, pointing to a building in the distance.
“It’s a kilometer and 200 meters away,” said Prigozhin, who was dressed in full military gear.
Al Jazeera could not verify the location where the images were taken.
With artillery booming in the background, Prigozhin said the most important thing now was to receive more ammunition from the army and “move forward”. He said his forces needed 10,000 tons of ammunition every month for battle.
Wagner led offensives against cities in eastern Ukraine, including Bakhmut, in what has become the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s years-long assault. Both sides suffered heavy casualties around Bakhmut.
Prigozhin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, is embroiled in a power struggle with the Defense Ministry.
He has won battlefield victories for the Russian army on several occasions, criticized the Russian leadership and accused the army of not sharing ammunition with its ragtag troops.
In the video released on Saturday, he said he was ready to ask for forgiveness from top Russian commanders, but at the same time appeared to mock Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
He said they were “excellent military commanders” and added that Russia’s top military leaders, including Georgy Zhukov and Alexander Suvorov, “could have learned from them”.
“I absolutely – fully – support all their initiatives,” added Prigozhin.
‘Necessary to gain time’
Earlier this week, Wagner said his fighters had taken the eastern part of Bakhmut.
Some military experts have questioned the sense of Ukraine’s continued defense of the devastated city, but Kiev officials say Bakhmut’s fall could lead to further Russian advances in the east.
Ukrainian ground forces commander Oleksandr Syrsky said on Saturday that the battle for Bakhmut helps to buy time to prepare for a future counter-offensive.
“The real heroes now are the defenders who hold the eastern front on their shoulders and inflict the heaviest losses possible without sparing themselves or the enemy,” Syrsky said in a statement.
“It is necessary to buy time to build up reserves and launch a counter-offensive, which is not far away.”
British military intelligence said on Saturday that the Bakhmutka River in the center of Bakmut now marked the front line.
Ukrainian forces are holding the western part of the city and have demolished key bridges over the river, which runs north-south through a strip of open terrain 200 to 800 meters wide,” the UK’s defense ministry said in an update.
“This area has become a killing zone, making it likely to be a major challenge for Wagner forces trying to continue their frontal assault westward.”
Elsewhere in Ukraine, three civilians were killed in Russian shelling of Kherson, and one other person was killed in the eastern Donetsk region, regional officials said.
Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of Kherson’s regional military administration, said three people, including an elderly woman, were also injured in the artillery shelling of the city.
“Today the Russian occupiers hit Kherson again. On a Mykolayivsky road, near a shop, three people were killed by debris from a shell,” Prokudin told Ukrainian TV, adding that a car, several buses and a commercial premises were damaged.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said one person was killed and at least three civilians injured in the town of Kostyantynivka after several rounds of Russian shelling throughout the day.
The Donetsk region has seen the fiercest fighting since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year.