Russia is “likely” to now be in control most of the salt-mining town of Soledar in Ukraine’s east after a months-long battle with Ukrainian forces, the UK’s Ministry of Defence says.
Russian troops and the mercenary Wagner Group have made advances in the past four days, the UK says.
Soledar is near Bakhmut, where Ukraine is also locked in a bloody battle.
President Zelensky said there was “almost no life” in Soledar, with “no whole walls left”.
He also said “the whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers”.
Soledar – which had a population of around 10,000 before the war – may be seen mainly as a stepping stone to capturing Bakhmut, and its strategic value is questionable.
But a US official said last week that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group’s founder, wants control of the large salt and gypsum mines in the area.
The UK said part of the fighting had focused on entrances to the 200km-long disused tunnels and that both Russia and Ukraine “are likely concerned that they could be used for infiltration behind their lines”.