Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russian paramilitary group Wagner, has threatened to withdraw his troops from the embattled Ukrainian city of Bakhmut if ammunition supply problems are not resolved, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed for modern air-defense systems following one of the deadliest Russian strikes on civilian targets in recent months.
In an interview published on April 29, Prigozhin said he would be “forced to withdraw some units” from Bakhmut if Wagner didn’t soon receive more ammunition, continuing a complaint he has been voicing for weeks.
Bakhmut, a key transport hub in Donetsk region, has been the site of the war’s fiercest fighting for the past several months, with both sides suffering high casualties.
Ukrainian military officials have said the loss of Bakhmut, which is located on high ground, offering a natural defense, would open up its troops located in other parts of the eastern region to attack.
Wagner has been leading the Russian push to take Bakhmut since last year but has been unable to dislodge Ukrainian fighters, who still hold the western corners of the city. Prigozhin warned that a Wagner pullout from Bakhmut would lead to a Russian collapse along other parts of the 1,000-kilometer front.
As Prigozhin spoke, Russian forces kept up the pressure on the Bakhmut-Adviyivka-Maryinka front line, launching 48 unsuccessful assaults on Ukrainian positions, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its daily update on April 29.
Russia has been laying siege to Bakhmut since last summer, making only incremental gains at enormous cost in lives and equipment.
Zelenskiy meanwhile called on Ukraine’s allies and partners to supply Ukraine with better air defenses after at least 25 people, including several children, were killed in a wave of Russian strikes on Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv, early on April 28.
The worst-hit was Uman, a city in central Ukraine’s Cherkasy region, where at least 23 people, including four children, were killed when a Russian missile hit a nine-story apartment building, according to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.
As many as 109 people are believed to have been residing in the part of the building that was hit.
The Uman city council announced a three-day mourning period, and prosecutors have opened a war crimes investigation into the strike, authorities said.
In Dnipro, a large city on th Dnieper River in central Ukraine, a woman and a little girl were killed in the Russian attack, despite Ukrainian air defenses managing to shoot down seven missiles.
One person was killed by Russian shelling in the town of Bilozerka, in the southern Kherson region.
“Air defense, modern aircraft, without which there is no fully effective air defense — artillery, armored vehicles. Everything that is necessary to provide security to our cities, to our villages, both in the hinterland and on the front lines,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address late on April 28.
Speaking to journalists from the Nordic countries on April 29, Zelenskiy said that modern fighter planes would be of “great help,” but a Ukrainian counteroffensive will not be tied to their delivery. Ukraine has repeatedly asked for Western aircraft to beef up its air defenses.
“We will not delay, we will start [the counteroffensive] even before we have [U.S.-made] F-16s or something else,” he said.
Earlier, Zelenskiy condemned the strikes as “a night of Russian terror.”
“Russian evil can be stopped by weapons — our defenders are doing it. And it can be stopped by sanctions — global sanctions must be enhanced.”
Russia, with the help of third countries, has been evading some of the sanctions, reducing the anticipated impact on its budget and ability to finance the war.
The attack also targeted Kyiv but the Ukrainian air defense shot down most of the missiles coming toward the capital.
Ukraine’s Air Force Command later reported that the multipronged attack on Ukrainian cities was executed from strategic Tu-195 Russian bomberso coming from the Caspian Sea region.
The command said that Ukrainian air defense destroyed 21 out of 23 cruise missiles and two drones in central, eastern, and southern Ukraine.
The United States and some other allies have provided Ukraine with a few Patriot surface-to-air missile systems, considered to be one of the most advanced defense weapons in the NATO arsenal. Each Patriot system can protect one city.
Western allies have also given Ukraine other air-defense systems but recently leaked U.S. intelligence reports have indicated that Ukraine’s air defense remains a weak link.