Russia's Wagner paramilitary group in the overnight hours on Monday has claimed victory (or at least a partial victory) over Bakhmut by raising the Russian flag as well as its own PMC Wanger Group flag over central government administration buildings of Bakhmut.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin described that the key city in Donetsk is "ours" but only in a "legal sense". He wrote on Telegram: "The commanders of the units that took city hall and the whole center will go and put up this flag," he said in reference to a Russian flag being raised in the accompanying video. "This is the Wagner private military company, these are the guys who took Bakhmut. In a legal sense, it's ours."
🎥Wagner chief declares '#Bakhmut captured'.— Military Advisor (@miladvisor) April 2, 2023
"April 2, 2023, 23:00 (MSK time), the administrative center of the city. Commanders of storming groups of the PMC Wagner will raise the Russian flag and flag of the PMC 'Wagner' on the city administration of Bakhmut." pic.twitter.com/B60yzMhYqi
About two weeks ago Prigozhin claimed that Wagner and Russian forces controlled 70% of the utterly destroyed town, and as the Ukrainians were mounting a stiff defense, pouring more resources into the months-long fight.
Hours prior to Prigozhin video showing the flag-raising against a dark night sky, the Ukrainian general staff acknowledged that "the enemy has not stopped its assault of Bakhmut... Ukrainian defenders are courageously holding the city as they repel numerous enemy attacks."
The announcement was meant to convey that the Ukrainian Army still considers that it "holds" Bakhmut. Russian sources say Ukrainian fighters are still concentrated on the Western outskirts.
However, going into the weekend it was already clear that Wagner fighters were on the cusp of taking the city center...
On Sunday President Zelensky was still sounding somewhat optimistic regarding the fate of Bakhmut:
"I am grateful to our warriors who are fighting near Avdiivka, Maryinka, near Bakhmut... Especially Bakhmut! It's especially hot there today!" Zelensky said in his own post to Telegram.
Near Bakhmut, about 27 kilometres (17 miles) away in Kostyantynivka, a "massive attack" of Russian missiles left three men and three women dead and eleven wounded Sunday, Ukrainian authorities said.
Zelensky said the affected zones are "just residential areas", where "ordinary civilians of an ordinary city of Donbas" were targeted.
A close-up map of the approximate situation around the city of Bakhmut.— War Mapper (@War_Mapper) April 3, 2023
🇷🇺 have advanced deeper into the centre of the city and taken control of what was the city council building. pic.twitter.com/NtiaaCNPGH
Zelensky in an interview last week suggested that he may be forced to negotiate with Russia if his forces are definitively defeated at Bakhmut, while also hinting at huge losses.