"Thank you to our soldiers who are fighting in Avdiivka, Maryinka, and Bakhmut," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. Twitter/@business

The Wagner Group, a Russian organization, has declared "legal" control over Bakhmut in Ukraine, but Kyiv said its soldiers continued to hold the eastern town and described the battle as being "particularly hot."

On Monday, Apr. 3, the leader of the paramilitary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed that his forces had placed a Russian flag on the town's administrative building after a months-long campaign to encircle and seize the bombed-out town.

"From a legal point of view, Bakhmut has been taken. The enemy is concentrated in the western parts," Prigozhin said in an audio message posted on his press service's Telegram account.

Nevertheless, there was no sign from Ukrainian authorities that Bakhmut, a town of 70,000 people before the Russian invasion began more than a year ago, had been captured by the Russians, Al Jazeera reported.

Prigozhin has made assertions in the past that were unfounded.

Following the release of Prigozhin's video, Ukrainian military officials claimed that while enemy forces had attempted to seize control of the town, their forces had "repelled more than 20 enemy attacks."

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier on Sunday, Apr. 2, praised Ukrainian troops' defence of the city.

"Thank you to our soldiers who are fighting in Avdiivka, Maryinka, and Bakhmut," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. "Especially Bakhmut. It is especially hot there."

Hanna Maliar, the deputy minister of defense for Ukraine, had previously called the situation around the town as "tense". Ukrainian forces were defending their positions, and Russian forces were paying scant attention to losses as they attacked, Maliar said.

While claiming that their own counteroffensive, supported by recently delivered Western tanks and other equipment, is not far off, Ukrainian military commanders have emphasized the significance of retaining Bakhmut in the interim.

Oleh Zhdanov, a well-known military analyst from Ukraine, claimed that battle had engulfed Bakhmut's center. Russian soldiers have taken control of the AZOM metal facility, which Ukrainian troops defended for days despite repelling 25 enemy attacks.

"The enemy is attacking the city centre from the north, the east and the south and is trying to take the city under its full control," Zhdanov, who has close ties to the Ukrainian military, said in a video shown on YouTube.

Three men and three women were killed and 11 people were hurt on Sunday in Kostyantynivka, a town some 27 kilometers (17 miles) from Bakhmut, according to Ukrainian authorities. This was the result of a "massive attack" of Russian missiles.

Residential areas where "ordinary civilians" lived were the objective of the attack, according to Zelenskyy.

According to the AFP news agency, there was a sizable crater in the yard, two 14-story tower blocks had their windows shattered from the ground to the top floors, and adjoining single-family homes also had their roofs broken.

Vladlen Tatarsky, a well-known military blogger in Russia, was killed by a bomb explosion in a café in Saint Petersburg on Sunday.

This appears to be the second assassination of a person strongly linked to the war in Ukraine on Russian soil.

The explosion, which left 25 people injured, is the subject of a murder inquiry, according to the state investigative committee of Russia.

It was not immediately known who was behind the killing. Wagner's Prigozhin said he would "not blame the Kyiv regime" for it, but another leading Russian official pointed the finger at Ukraine without providing evidence.

According to a presidential adviser from Ukraine, "domestic terrorism" is on the rise in Russia.

In the meantime, the Kremlin rejected the latest demand for the release of American journalist Evan Gershkovich and denounced the Western "hype" surrounding his detention on espionage charges.

Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told his U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken that Gershkovich had been "trying to receive secret information" when he was arrested this week.

The arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Gershkovich, who is said to be the first foreign journalist detained for espionage in post-Soviet Russia, is anticipated to worsen relations between the Kremlin and the West.

His arrest on Mar. 30 has drawn outrage from the West and is being seen as a serious escalation of Moscow's sweeping crackdown on the media.

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