Ukrainian servicemen ride atop of a tank on a road to the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine May 12, 2023. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

The Russian Ministry of Defense has acknowledged its forces pulled back from areas north of the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, claiming they moved to more advantageous defensive positions.

“In order to increase the stability of defense, units of the ‘Southern’ group of Russian troops occupied the line in the Maloilyinovka direction,” the ministry said in its daily update on Friday.

The move, it said, would allow its troops to take advantage of “the favorable conditions of the Berkhivka reservoir,” but it effectively confirms the loss of some kilometers of territory by Russian forces.

Wagner mercenary group founder and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin responded to the ministry, saying, “this is called fleeing and not regrouping,” promising more details at a later stage.

The ministry’s announcement comes after an unusual late-night denial by the Russian defense ministry on Thursday, pushing back on reports that Ukrainian forces had made breakthroughs along the front lines around Bakhmut, namely in the direction of the village of Maloilyinovka.

“The statements spread by individual Telegram channels about ‘defense breakthroughs’ in various sections of the line of contact are not true,” the ministry said on Thursday. “A battle is currently underway to repel an attack by the AFU unit in the direction of Maloilyinovka.”

Ukrainian forces have been able to push the Russians back 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) around Bakhmut over the past week, the country’s deputy defense minister said Friday.


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