Bakhmut and the surrounding areas have faced a months-long assault from Russian troops and their Wagner mercenary allies. Photo by George Ivanchenko/EPA-EFE
Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Russian forces and their Wagner mercenary group allies advanced to the town of Soledar, Ukraine after months of heavy fighting around the city of Bakhmut, British officials said Tuesday.
"In the last four days, Russian and Wagner forces have made tactical advances into the small Donbas town of Soledar and are likely in control of most of the settlement," the British Ministry of Defense tweeted.
The town of Soledar, in the eastern Donetsk region, is home to salt mines with massive tunnels that could be used to infiltrate positions on both sides.
"Part of the fighting has focused on entrances to the 200km-long disused salt mine tunnels, which run underneath the district. Both sides are likely concerned they could be used for infiltration behind their lines," the ministry said.
The head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, spoke of the importance of the tunnels in a Telegram post on Saturday, saying "tanks and infantry vehicles can also move about."
Earlier this week, Prigozhin denied rumors of mass Ukrainian desertions from the Bakhmut front.
"Let's be honest with ourselves. The Ukrainian army is bravely fighting for Bakhmut and Soledar. Reports of their mass desertion are not true," he said.
The Ukrainian military repelled 13 attacks on the towns and cities, the general staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a Facebook post.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in a Telegram post that Russian troops were "literally stepping on the corpses of their own soldiers using massed artillery, MRLS systems and mortars."
Two British nationals have gone missing in Ukraine, according to British officials.
"We are supporting the families of two British men who have gone missing in Ukraine," the British Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement Monday.
Russian officials said they will not publish the names of soldiers killed in a Ukrainian attack on barracks in the town of Makiivka on Jan. 1.
"Firstly, these are personal data, and secondly, of course, this is work for foreign intelligence services, to identify and conduct information activities in relation to relatives of military personnel," Samara region military commissioner Alexey Vdovin told Russian state-backed RIA Novosti on Tuesday.
The human rights commissioner of Russia, Tatiana Moskalkova, has confirmed that she will meet with Ukrainian officials in Turkey.
"There will be a major forum on the territory of Turkey that the Rakish commissioner is organizing and we have spoken about the potential for a meeting and a tentative agenda," Moskalkova told the state-run TASS news agency Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials said they would use the meeting to discuss prisoner exchanges.
"The main issue to be discussed is the return of our heroes home," Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said in a Telegram post Sunday.