The Russian army, through the mercenaries of the Wagner group, launched an offensive on Friday to capture the city of Soledar, 10 kilometers northeast of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region, annexed by Russia in the autumn. The operation coincides with the entry into force of the 36-hour ceasefire, decreed unilaterally yesterday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in order to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, and to which Ukraine has refused to commit.
The Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelensky, dismisses the truce, which came into force at noon and should last until midnight on January 7, as a "cover" to stop the advance of his troops on the front, a suspicion shared by the United States , who consider it a maneuver by Putin to supply and organize his troops.
According to Russian media, the paramilitaries have broken the defensive line of the Ukrainian troops in Soledar, known for its salt mine, and are close to taking control of the city. Information that has been confirmed by Wagner's boss, Yergueni Prigozhin, who has assured that his forces "are close to taking the city", but asked the media for discretion so as not to harm the offensive.
A dozen kilometers to the west, artillery duels continued in Bakhmut, the epicenter of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, and Russian attacks were taking place in the city of Kramatorsk, some 30 kilometers to the northwest. Agence France Presse journalists heard gunshots on the Ukrainian and Russian sides after the start of a ceasefire in this city with streets largely destroyed and deserted, but their intensity was less than in previous days.
The deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, reported that two Russian attacks in Kramatorsk hit a residential building without causing casualties. Earlier, before the truce, there was a shelling in Kherson, where a fire unit was attacked resulting in at least one death and injuries.
"The Russians have once again confirmed the fact that they cannot be trusted. Another bombardment by our unit. Dead and wounded," said the head of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service, Serhii Kruk, who remarked that it was the second fire brigade in two days that it had been attacked by the enemy, "violating all the principles and norms of international law".
The pro-Russian separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine, for their part, reported several Ukrainian shelling raids on their Donetsk stronghold before and after the theoretical ceasefire came into force.