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Russian Evacuation Orders Sow Confusion in Some Occupied Areas: Live News

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The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said on Sunday that he had been promised as much ammunition and weaponry as needed to continue the fight for the embattled Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, two days after he threatened to withdraw his fighters because Moscow’s Ministry of Defense was failing to support them.

“We have been promised as much ammunition and armament as we need to keep going,” the Wagner group’s founder, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, said in an audio statement released Sunday on his channel on the Telegram messaging app. There was no immediate comment from Russia’s defense ministry.

On Friday, Mr. Prigozhin launched what was widely considered an effort at brinkmanship, by threatening to withdraw all of his fighters from Bakhmut, accusing Russia’s military bureaucracy of starving him of the ammunition needed to fully capture the city. He had appeared in a gruesome video standing in front of row after row of what he said were freshly killed fighters, saying the ministry had caused “useless and unjustified” losses by failing to replenish the ammunition stocks.

While Mr. Prigozhin had complained about ammunition shortages and threatened to pull out of the city before, he had not previously given a date. This time, he named Wednesday — the day after Russia’s Victory Day holiday — as the deadline for his forces to withdraw and “lick their wounds.” The May 9 holiday celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany and has taken on particular resonance in Russia amid its war in Ukraine.

Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, wrote on Telegram on Sunday that he had visited troops in the area of Bakhmut, where he previously said Russia was employing “scorched-earth tactics.” The shelling has intensified, he said, as Russia attempts to seize the city by Tuesday.

“Our task is to prevent this,” he wrote.

Few military analysts expected Mr. Prigozhin to carry out his threat, especially because Russia’s Ministry of Defense has no real alternative to the estimated 10,000 Wagner fighters fighting for control of the devastated city, where 70,000 people lived before the invasion.

A damaged building in the vicinity of Bakhmut last month.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

A sliver of Bakhmut remains in Ukrainian hands, with the Russian Ministry of Defense claiming on Sunday that its forces had made further small advances. All the territory Russia has gained during months of grinding conflict in the city has also come at an enormous cost for both sides, including the deaths of thousands of fighters recruited by Wagner from Russian prisons and thrown right onto the battlefield. Mr. Prigozhin also said that Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the commander of the air force nicknamed “General Armageddon,” had been appointed as his liaison with the military.

If confirmed, the appointment of Gen. Surovikin, who developed a close relationship with Wagner while commanding the Russian forces in Syria, could help address the deep-seated tension between the Wagner mercenary forces and the regular Russian Army, which has repeatedly interrupted Russian efforts to push forward in Ukraine.

Gen. Surovikin was appointed overall commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine last October, which was considered a sign that Mr. Prigozhin was gaining influence in the Kremlin. But he was then replaced three months later by Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian military.

Mr. Prigozhin openly cursed Gen. Gerasimov and Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s minister of defense, in his expletive-laden video on Friday. Some analysts have attributed the tensions to rivalries for President Vladimir V. Putin’s favor.

It is unclear whether the ammunition promised to Mr. Prigozhin can be deployed fast enough to change the battle for the city that started last August. In threatening to withdraw, Mr. Prigozhin stressed just how weary his men were of the fight.

A Ukrainian soldier driving through western Bakhmut last month.Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

But the chances of that seem remote. Ukraine is expected to soon begin a counteroffensive powered by fresh supplies of advanced Western military equipment, including tanks and armored personnel carriers that have already arrived in the country.

Here’s what else is happening in Ukraine:

Drones targeted Crimea, Russia says

The Kremlin-installed authorities in Crimea said on Sunday that Ukraine had launched a wave of drones on the occupied peninsula overnight, the latest in a string of reported attacks on Russian-held territory ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Mikhail Razvozhaev, the Russian-appointed governor of the port of Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea and home to the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, said that “more than 10” drones were involved in the attack. At least three were destroyed or crashed, he said on the Telegram messaging app, adding that there were no reports of damage.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that a total of 22 Ukrainian drones had been detected over the Black Sea overnight. All of the drones were shot down or disabled, it said in a statement.

The claims could not be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials had not commented.

Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, has been a key conduit for supplies and troops supporting Russia’s occupying forces in southern Ukraine. Attacks and explosions there have picked up in recent months, which military analysts say could help set the stage for a long-anticipated counteroffensive that Ukrainian officials have said is in the final stages of preparation.

In just the past two weeks, refineries and military installations on the peninsula have been targeted. The Russian authorities have sought to downplay the attacks, but Ukraine’s military has said that at least one of the attacks was in preparation for its counteroffensive.

Smoke rising after a drone attack, in Sevastopol, Crimea, last month.Credit…Reuters

A deadly attack in Kherson

Nine Ukrainian mine disposal experts were killed when they came under fire from Russian forces while they were working in the southern Kherson region, Ukrainian officials said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address on Sunday that the victims had been killed on Saturday while they were “restoring safety for people.”

The chief of the State Emergency Service, Serhiy Kruk, said in a post on Facebook on Saturday that the demining team had been fired on while working. Ukrainian demining experts have regularly been killed and wounded while attempting to clear mines, often laid by retreating Russian forces, but it is unusual for them to be targeted by enemy fire. It was not clear where in the region the incident took place.

Experts had removed 7,300 mines in the last week, the service said in a post on the Telegram social messaging app.

Russian writer in stable condition after car bombing

Zakhar Prilepin, a famous Russian novelist and nationalist ideologue, said on Sunday that both his legs were broken when his Audi S.U.V. blew up a day earlier in an apparent assassination attempt near the city of Nizhny Novgorod.

Mr. Prilepin, an outspoken supporter of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and volunteer fighter there sporadically since 2014, wrote on Telegram that he was driving the S.U.V. at the time of the explosion, which killed his friend and passenger. Russian state media previously reported that Mr. Prilepin was a passenger.

The bombing was the third such attack on a high profile hawk since last August; the other two were killed.

Mr. Prilepin wrote that the explosion was caused by a mine that detonated shortly after he’d dropped off his daughter. A second mine did not detonate, he added.

Russian law enforcement officials said a suspect with links to the Ukrainian special services had confessed to the bombing. Ukrainian officials denied any involvement.

Mr. Prilepin had been put on a Ukrainian wanted list for acting as both an administrator and a battalion commander for the separatist forces in the east, but Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, said in an televised interview that Mr. Prilepin had no influence on the course of the war.

“Ukraine does not resort to such excesses,” he told the Ukrainian channel Freedom TV.

A Russian jet buzzes a Polish aircraft over the Black Sea.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter plane buzzed a Polish Border Guard aircraft patrolling over the Black Sea, near Romanian air space, causing the Polish plane to lose altitude, Romanian officials said in a statement that was then confirmed by the E.U. border agency Frontex.

The unarmed Polish border plane, which was taking part in an operation focused on migration, illegal fishing and other matters, landed safely after Friday’s encounter, the latest example of aggressive behavior by Russian fighter pilots over the Black Sea. In March, a Russian fighter jet collided with an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance drone, forcing the American aircraft down into the Black Sea.

In a statement, Romania’s government said the Russian plane’s “aggressive and dangerous maneuvers” created turbulence that made it difficult for the Polish crew to control the plane. The Russian government did not comment on the encounter.

Milana Mazaeva and Enjoli Liston contributed reporting.

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