Ukraine rejects the claim, says heavy fighting continues in the city and describes the situation as “critical”.
Russian private army chief Wagner said his fighters had completed the capture of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, but Kyiv immediately dismissed the claim and said fighting was continuing.
Yevgeny Prigozhin made the claim in a video on Saturday in which he appeared in combat gear in front of a line of fighters holding Russian flags and Wagner banners.
“Today at noon Bakhmut was completely taken,” Prigozhin said. “We completely took over the whole city, from house to house.
“The operation to capture Bakhmut – Bakhmut’s meat grinder – lasted 224 days,” he said.
But Ukraine said on Saturday it retained some ground control in the eastern town of Bakhmut as fighting continued and the situation was “critical”.
“Heavy fighting in Bakhmut. The situation is critical,” Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said on Telegram. She said Ukrainian troops were “holding the defense” in the city’s “plane zone”.
“As of now, our defenders control certain industrial and infrastructure facilities in the region.”
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi told Reuters news agency: “Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”
Al Jazeera was unable to verify the claims.
Bakhmut has been at the center of the longest and bloodiest battle in Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is nearing the end of its 15th month.
The battle razed the salt mining center which once had a population of around 70,000 people.
Distant explosions could be heard in the background as Prigozhin spoke during the video, in which he said his forces would withdraw from Bakhmut from May 25 to rest and retrain, handing over control to the military Regular Russian.
Prigozhin taunted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden, who were participate in a G7 summit in Japan Saturday when the war in Ukraine was at the heart of the concerns of world leaders.
Speaking to Zelenskyy, Prigozhin said, “Today when you see Biden, kiss him on the top of the head, say hello to him from me.”
Prigozhin repeated complaints he had frequently made in the past that his forces had suffered far heavier casualties than necessary due to inadequate support and ammunition supply from the Russian regular army.
Earlier this month he had threatened to withdraw his forces after he issued a furious tirade against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as he stood in a field of bloodied corpses.
Because of Russian bureaucracy and the ‘whims’ of Shoigu and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, ‘five times more guys died than they should have’, he said in the video of Saturday.
“One day in history they will pay for their actions,” Prigozhin said.
His claim of victory follows heavy fighting around the city last week in which Ukraine declared him pushed back some Russian forces.
Britain’s defense intelligence said on Saturday it was “very likely” that Russia had deployed up to several battalions to reinforce the Bakhmut sector, following Ukrainian tactical gains on the flanks of the town. He said it represented a “notable commitment from the Russian command”.
“Russian leaders likely continue to view the capture of Bakhmut as the primary immediate war objective that would allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict,” he said on Twitter.
Prigozhin acknowledged that Bakhmut had no strategic significance, but it took on enormous symbolic importance for both sides due to the sheer intensity of the fighting and the scale of the casualties.