A senior Ukrainian official said on Friday Russia was bringing Wagner mercenary fighters from other parts of the frontline to fight in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, and that Moscow wanted to capture the city in time for Victory Day celebrations on May 9.
Deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar made her comments after Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said his mercenary forces would pull out of Bakhmut on May 10 because of heavy losses and inadequate ammunition supplies.
That is one day after the annual events commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, an important day in the Russian calendar.
Ukraine: Russia pulling fighters to Bakhmut
"We are now seeing them pulling (fighters) from the entire offensive line where the Wagner fighters were, they are pulling (them) to the Bakhmut direction," Maliar said in televised comments.
She said Ukrainian forces were not only on the defensive in the city, but were also conducting assaults. Kyiv is expected in the coming weeks to launch a counter-offensive to try to push back Russian forces in the east and south.
"The Russians are inclined towards symbolism and their key historic myth is May 9 and they really have set the objective of taking control of Bakhmut by this date," she said.
Prigozhin's Wagner mercenaries have spearheaded Russia's months-long assault on Bakhmut in the industrial Donbas region.
Though of questionable military strategic value, Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of 70,000, has taken on huge symbolic importance in Russia's full-scale invasion. Casualties there have been high.
Russia marks May 9 annually with a big military parade on Red Square presided over by President Vladimir Putin.