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Ukraine war: Wagner announces Bakhmut pullout, Zaporizhzhia nuclear scare, 'saboteur' incursion

Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner Group military company members wave a Russian national and Wagner flag atop a damaged building in Bakhmut, Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin's Wagner Group military company members wave a Russian national and Wagner flag atop a damaged building in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Copyright Prigozhin Press Service via AP
Copyright Prigozhin Press Service via AP
By Euronews with AP
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Here's everything you need to know about the war in Ukraine for Monday 22 May 2023.

Russia's mercenary group Wagner announced plans on Monday to leave Bakhmut by 1 June, less than two weeks after the leader of the group Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian army claimed victory over the eastern Ukrainian city on Saturday.

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"In the western outskirts [of Bakhmout], the lines of defence are in place. So the Wagner group will leave Artiomovsk [the Soviet name of the Ukrainian city] between May 25 and June 1," Prigozhin said on Monday in an audio recording released by Wagner's press service. 

The group said it will now leave the city in the hands of the Russian troops.

Despite the claimed victory, the rift between the mercenary group a the Russian army's leadership continues. Concluding his message, Prigozhin accused the army's leaders of leaving his men without ammunition and remaining too far back from the battlefront. 

"If there are not enough units of the Ministry of Defence (to occupy Bakhmut), there are thousands of generals [to do it], you have to form a regiment of generals, give them all guns, and everything will be fine," he said.

The claims follow months of bloody fighting in the city, which Ukraine claim hasn't come to a close yet. Ukrainian authorities have not recognised the loss of Bakhmut, and claim that its troops still hold part of the city.

Ukraine hits back at Russia's claims of victory over Bakhmut

Ukrainian officials acknowledge they now control only a small part of Bakhmut.

But, Ukraine says, their fighters' presence has played a key role in their strategy of exhausting the Russian military. And they say their current positions in the areas surrounding Bakhmut will let them strike back inside the 400-year-old city.

“Despite the fact that we now control a small part of Bakhmut, the importance of its defense does not lose its relevance,” said General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of ground forces for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. “This gives us the opportunity to enter the city in case of a change in the situation. And it will definitely happen.”

The fog of war makes it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground in Bakhmut. Russia’s defense ministry said Wagner mercenaries backed by Russian troops had seized the city, but Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bakhmut was not being fully occupied.

In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. Holding a Russian flag before a group of at least nine masked fighters in body army who were toting heavy weapons, Prigozhin proclaimed: “This afternoon at 12:00, Bakhmut was completely taken.”

More important for Ukraine has been the high numbers of Russian casualties and sapping of the morale of enemy troops for the the small patch of the 1,500-kilometre front line as Ukraine gears up for a major counteroffensive in the 15-month-old war.

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Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest atomic power station, spent hours operating on emergency diesel generators Monday after losing its external powerAP

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant scare

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest atomic power station, spent hours operating on emergency diesel generators Monday after losing its external power supply for the seventh time since Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said.

“The nuclear safety situation at the plant (is) extremely vulnerable,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a tweet.

Hours later, national energy company Ukrenergo said on Telegram that it had restored the power line that feeds the plant.

But for Grossi, it was another reminder of what's at stake at the Russian-occupied plant which has seen shelling close by.

“We must agree to protect (the) plant now; this situation cannot continue,” Grossi said, in his latest appeal for the area to be spared from the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. IAEA staff are deployed at the plant, which is occupied by Russian troops.

The plant’s six nuclear reactors, which are protected by a reinforced shelter able to withstand an errant shell or rocket, have been shut down. But a disruption in the electrical supply could disable cooling systems that are essential for the reactors’ safety even when they are shut down. Emergency diesel generators, which officials say can keep the plant operational for 10 days, can be unreliable.

Fighting, especially artillery fire, around the plant has fueled fears of a disaster like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, in 1986. Then, a reactor exploded and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe.

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Andriy Andriyenko/AP
A local man hauls a bicycle with humanitarian aid in front of a house which was destroyed by Russian shelling in Orihiv, Ukraine, on Monday, May 22, 2023.Andriy Andriyenko/AP

Russian missiles and drones target Dnipro

Ukraine said on Monday that it had countered an unprecedented Russian attack overnight targeting the city of Dnipro, in the center-east of the country, with missiles and explosive drones.

According to regional authorities, seven people were injured.

During this "night attack", Russia launched "16 missiles of various types and 20 Shahed drones", the Ukrainian military said in a statement posted on Facebook.

A total of four "Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles" and all 20 drones "were destroyed by anti-aircraft defense", she said.

The Ukrainian army, however, did not give details on the consequences of the 12 missiles that passed through its defences.

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Earlier Monday morning, she said the Russians had launched "a massive missile and drone attack", without saying where exactly and adding that "details will be released after clarification".

Ukraine ensures that its anti-aircraft defense, reinforced by Western military aid, shoots down most drones and missiles.

LIBKOS/AP
A Ukrainian soldier rides atop an APC on the frontline in the Luhansk region, Ukraine, Sunday, May 21, 2023.LIBKOS/AP

Are Ukrainian 'saboteurs' operating in Russia?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has apparently been briefed on an ongoing incursion into Russian territory by "saboteurs" from Ukraine , an attack that aims to "divert attention" from Moscow's claimed conquest of Bakhmut, his spokesperson has said. 

"The Ministry of Defense, the FSB and the border guards have informed the President (...), work is underway to drive out this sabotage group from Russian territory and to eliminate it," Russian agencies told Dmitry Peskov.

According to the Kremlin official, Ukraine launched this attack on the Belgorod region, bordering Ukrainian territory, to "divert attention" from the situation in Bakhmut, the epicenter of Russian-Ukrainian fighting for months and a city that Moscow claimed to have conquered this weekend.

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"We fully understand that the purpose of this act of sabotage is to divert attention from Bakhmut, to minimise the effect of the loss by the Ukrainian side" of this city, he said.

Kyiv says for its part that it still controls a few sites in Bakhmut, but above all that it is attacking the Russian flanks in the suburbs, in order to surround Moscow's forces in the city.

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