Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov said in a statement on live television Monday that Russian troops are recruiting residents to join their battles for Bakhmut.
Fedorov said that the Wagner forces are offering to pay Melitopol residents 200,000 rubles ($2,650) a month to fight with them.
"It is true that the Wagner Group is recruiting locals," Fedorov said in the statement. "At the end of the week, the residents of Melitopol who remained in the temporarily occupied city and were members of closed Internet communities, received invitations to become members of the Wagner Group."
A complicated situation
It was first reported on March 13 after the commander of Ukraine's ground forces Oleksandr Syrskyi reported that the situation surrounding Bakhmut was complicated after visiting.
"Units of the private military company Wagner have practically surrounded Bakhmut," Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video.
⚡️Mayor: Wagner forces attempt to recruit residents of occupied Melitopol to fight in Bakhmut.According to a statement made on national television by Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov, Wagner forces began to recruit residents to participate in the battles for Bakhmut.— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) March 13, 2023
In an interview with CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that if Bakhmut were to be seized by Russian troops, other important Ukrainian cities in eastern Ukraine will be easier for Russia to capture.
"We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further," he said. "They could go to Kramatorsk, they could go to Slovaiansk, it would be an open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction. That's why our guys are standing there."
President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top military command agreed on Tuesday to continue to defend Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the president's office said.
Following a meeting involving the president, top government officials and military commanders, Zelensky's office said in a statement: "After considering the defensive operation in the Bakhmut direction, all members ... expressed a common position to continue holding and defending the city of Bakhmut."
Battle in Bakhmut
More than 500 Russian troops were killed or wounded during a 24-hour period during the battle in Bakhmut, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said on Saturday.
A military spokesperson for forces in the east Serhiy Cherevaty said that the Russians had launched 16 attacks over a 24-hour period, with 23 clashes taking place in the eastern Ukrainian city.
"Over the course of the fighting, 221 enemies were killed and 314 sustained injuries of various degrees," he told the national parliament's television channel.