Ukraine update: Russian mercenary chief says Bakhmut surrounded; Western investigators claim Russia financed ‘torture chambers

by Jacob Fuller

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force, said in a video published on Friday that the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was “practically surrounded” by his forces and that Kyiv’s forces had only one road left out.

Prigozhin’s men have spearheaded the assault in eastern Ukraine for months. Moscow regards Bakhmut, which it calls by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk, as a useful stepping stone to seize bigger cities like Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Prigozhin, wearing a military uniform in the video, called on Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy to withdraw his forces from the small city.

“Units of the private military company Wagner have practically surrounded Bakhmut. Only one road is left (open to Ukrainian forces) The pincers are getting tighter,” said Prigozhin.

Reuters geolocated the video to the village of Paraskoviivka, 4.3 miles north of the center of Bakhmut. Prigozhin announced the capture of Paraskoviivka on Feb. 17.

Prigozhin said his forces were increasingly fighting against old men and children rather than the professional Ukrainian army.

The video then showed what looked like three captured Ukrainians — an older man and two young boys — who looked frightened and asked to be allowed to go home. They looked to be speaking under extreme stress.

Prigozhin on Thursday released another video showing his fighters inside Bakhmut. Reuters geolocated the footage to the east of Bakhmut, around 1.2 miles from the city center.


A network of at least 20 torture chambers in the recently liberated southern Ukrainian region of Kherson was “planned and directly financed by the Russian State,” war crimes investigators alleged on Thursday, citing new evidence.

The Mobile Justice Team, funded by Britain, the EU, and the United States, has been working with Ukrainian war crimes prosecutors across Ukraine and in Kherson since it was reclaimed from Russian forces in November after more than eight months of occupation.

The Kremlin press office did not respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported on the scale of torture chambers in Kherson in January, when Ukrainian authorities said around 200 people had allegedly been tortured at 10 locations. Survivors told Reuters about being tortured, including electric shocks and suffocation techniques.

Moscow, which has said it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine, has denied committing war crimes or targeting civilians.

The mobile team, established in May 2022 by the Global Rights Compliance humanitarian law firm and backed by Ukraine supporters, is supporting Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General as it reviews more than 71,000 reports of war crimes nationwide since the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion.

“New evidence collected from recently liberated Kherson reveals torture chambers were planned and directly financed by the Russian State,” the team, established by British attorney Wayne Jordash, said in a statement.

Witnesses described the use of electric shock torture and waterboarding by Russian forces. At least 1,000 torture chamber survivors have submitted evidence to investigators and more than 400 people had been reported as missing from Kherson, it said.

Reuters was unable to verify the allegations.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of hypocrisy after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia cannot be allowed to wage war in Ukraine with impunity, during a security forum they attended in New Delhi on Friday.

The top diplomats from Moscow and Washington had both attended the Group of 20 foreign ministers gathering in the Indian capital earlier this week, and met in person for the first time since Russian forces invaded Ukraine a year ago.

“If we allow with impunity Russia to do what it’s doing in Ukraine, then that’s a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they may be able to get away with it too,” Blinken told the Raisina Dialogue strategic affairs forum.

Speaking at the same strategic affairs forum after Blinken, Lavrov said it was “double standards” to question Russia’s action in Ukraine when the United States cited a “threat to its national interest” to justify military intervention in various parts of the world, including the war in Iraq, air strikes on Libya, and the bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo conflict in 1999.

Lavrov also said the question of when Russia will negotiate an end to the war should be put to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Everybody is asking when Russia is going to negotiate … the West is continuously saying that it is not time to negotiate yet because Ukraine must win in the battlefield before any negotiations,” he said.

At the G20, the United States and its allies called on member countries to keep pressuring Russia to end the conflict, but the G20 was unable to agree on a joint statement on the war due to opposition from China and Russia, which calls its actions a “special military operation” aimed at removing what it says is a threat to its own security.

The Russian minister went on to accuse Washington of “trying to militarise” the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a partnership between the United States, Australia, India, and Japan that focuses on strategic issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

Earlier in the day Blinken had met with his counterparts from the Quad, as the grouping is informally called, and they issued a statement saying “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”.

Late last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended a landmark nuclear arms control treaty and threatened to resume nuclear tests.

During their brief exchange on the sidelines of the G20 meeting on Thursday, Blinken told Lavrov to end the war and urged Moscow to reverse its suspension of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) on nuclear weapons.

The Quad statement also took a barely disguised swipe at China by denouncing actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea, and the “militarisation” of disputed territories in the area.

China has denounced the Quad as a Cold War construct and a clique “targeting other countries.”

Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters