What’s Ukraine hiding in the ‘underground cities’ of Bakhmut and Soledar?

There is a network of extensive salt and other mines in the Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Soledar consisting of over 100 miles of tunnels. The founder of Wagner, Russia’s high-profile mercenary group, has said that capturing Bakhmut would be significant as its ‘underground cities’ can hold troops

Russian troops have escalated attacks led by the Wagner militia units on Soledar, near Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, said on Telegram on Monday (9 January) that though Ukrainian forces pushed back an earlier attempt to take the town, the Wagner units quickly changed tactics and brought additional soldiers, Reuters reported.

The Guardian reported citing the UK Ministry of Defence that Russia and Wagner have made tactical advances in the last four days and are “likely in control of most of” Soledar.

Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi said Soledar was “practically destroyed” in the over five-months long fighting, as per The Kyiv Independent. 

Russians “have concentrated their greatest efforts on Soledar,” CNN quoted Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy as saying in his nightly address on Monday. “It is extremely difficult — there are almost no undamaged walls left”.

Located in the Donetsk region, Soledar, around 15 kilometres from Bakhmut, has seen intense fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine last year in February.

A few days back, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s most high-profile mercenary group – Wagner, explained in detail why the capture of Bakhmut would be significant in the war.

What lies in the “underground cities” of Bakhmut and what is in Soledar? Why Wagner group is after the two cities? Let’s take a closer look.

What is in Bakhmut and Soledar?

Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, said mines in Bakhmut and Soledar would benefit Russia in the war with Ukraine.

“The cherry on the cake is the system of Soledar and Bakhmut mines, which is actually a network of underground cities. It not only (has the ability to hold) a big group of people at a depth of 80-100 metres, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move about,” he wrote on Telegram, as per Reuters.

He was referring to the network of vast salt and other mines in the region which consist of  125 miles of tunnels.

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