Russia's mercenary Wagner Group has claimed control over the eastern Ukrainian salt mining town, although Kyiv said its forces were holding out.
The battle for Soledar raged in freezing temperatures on Wednesday, with Russia's mercenary Wagner Group claiming to have taken control of the eastern Ukrainian salt mining town, as its fighters poured fire on a pocket of resistance in the centre.
Kyiv said earlier its forces were holding out. The Ukrainian military's morning summary made one mention of Soledar, listing the town as one of several being shelled in the Donetsk region.
Both claims are yet to be verified.
Seizing Soledar has been a key objective for Russian commanders, who hope to take the strategic city of Bakhmut and Ukraine's larger eastern Donbas region.
"Wagner units took control of the entire territory of Soledar. A cauldron has been formed in the centre of the city in which urban fighting is going on," Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said late on Tuesday, as reported by Russian news agencies.
Prigozhin further added that "the number of prisoners will be announced tomorrow."
While the British Defence Ministry earlier said Russian troops and Wagner's mercenaries had probably taken control of most of Soledar after four days of advances, Prigozhin's comment seemed to suggest that Russian control was incomplete.
The Russian state RIA news agency later issued a report claiming the Wagner Group took over Soledar’s salt mines -- located in the town's outskirts -- following "fierce fighting." Washington has said Prigozhin may want personal control of the area's mines.
Soledar's capture would have a particularly symbolic significance for Moscow and be its substantial gain since August, after a series of humiliating retreats throughout much of the second half of 2022. Russian forces have been fighting for months to capture Bakhmut.
But any victory would come at a massive cost, with both sides having taken heavy losses in some of the most intense fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine almost 11 months ago. Kyiv has released pictures in recent days showing what it says are vast numbers of Russian soldiers strewn dead in muddy fields.