Relatives and friends attend the funeral ceremony for Ukrainian serviceman Bohdan Sklyarenko in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. Bohdan was killed in fighting near the frontline city of Bakhmut. Photo by Sergey Kozlov/EPA-EFE
Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia's Wagner Group, said Sunday that a village near Bakhmut in Ukraine had been seized after claiming that the paramilitary force had stopped recruiting convicts.
Prigozhin said in a statement that the settlement of Krasna Hora was taken by Wagner mercenaries, who have been leading Russia's attempts to seize the city of Bakhmut in the Donbas region of Ukraine, as he shared a video purporting to show the private soldiers at the entrance to the town.
Ukrainians have been enduring a grueling, prolonged fight with Russia for the city -- which Moscow views as essential for seizing the rest of the Donbas region illegally annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last year.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a statement Sunday that Russian forces shelled Krasna Hora and two dozen other settlements in the area, as well as missile strikes on Kharkiv including three on civilian infrastructure.
The British Defense Ministry, which has provided daily intelligence updates since the war began, said Sunday that Russia, in the last two weeks, has "likely suffered its highest rate of casualties since the first week of the invasion of Ukraine."
Using data provided by Ukraine's Defense Ministry, the British analysis shows that Russian troops have been suffering from an average of 824 casualties per day over the last week -- which is more than four times the rate reported from June to July of last year.
"The uptick in Russian casualties is likely due to a range of factors including lack of trained personnel, coordination, and resources across the front -- this is exemplified in Vuhledar and Bakhmut," the British Defense Ministry said.
Prigozhin said last week that Ukrainian troops were "fighting to the last" while denying online accounts that Ukrainian troops were withdrawing from Bakhmut.
On Thursday, Prigozhin said in a statement that the Wagner Group has stopped recruiting convicts from Russia's prison system.
"We have completely discontinued the recruitment of prisoners into Wagner PMC. To those who work for us currently, all obligations are being fulfilled," Prigozhin said, without explaining the decision.
Prigozhin added that "obviously" the size of the Wagner Group's forces will decline at same point, stating that "it's not the quantity that matters, but the quality."
"When these guys came to us, they were just guys with a high level of adrenaline. Now each of the remaining is worth ten," Prigozhin said.
"With those who have already been released, but are not yet ready to return to the war, we maintain close relations."