Ukraine said on Sunday that its forces were still advancing around the edges of Bakhmut, aiming to encircle the ruined city after Moscow congratulated the Wagner private army and Russian troops for capturing it.
Russia said on Saturday it had completely taken the city, which, if confirmed, would mark an end to the longest and bloodiest battle of the 15-month war. Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his regular troops and the Wagner group.
On Sunday, however, a top Ukrainian general said Kyiv's forces still controlled what he accepted was an "insignificant" part of Bakhmut, although that would allow them to enter the city when the situation changed.
General Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a Telegram post that Kyiv's troops were advancing on Russian forces in the suburbs and were getting closer to a "tactical encirclement" of the city, formerly home to 70,000 people.
Ukrainian general: Our forces are circling Bakhmut
Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine's ground forces, said on Sunday he had visited front-line positions near Bakhmut and thanked troops for defending the area.
Syrskyi's assertion that Ukrainian forces were continuing their advance along the flanks of the city was echoed by Ukraine's deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar.
"Our forces have taken the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy...the enemy has to defend himself in the part of the city he controls," Maliar said on Telegram.
Maliar added that Ukrainian troops were still defending industrial and infrastructure facilities and had claimed part of the overlooking heights.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
Over the past week, Ukrainian forces have made their most rapid gains for six months on Bakhmut's northern and southern flanks, with Russia acknowledging some setbacks for its troops.
Kyiv says its aim has been to draw Russian forces from elsewhere on the front into the city, to inflict high casualties there and weaken Moscow's defensive line elsewhere ahead of a planned major Ukrainian counteroffensive.
US President Joe Biden said Russia had suffered more than 100,000 casualties in Bakhmut, the destruction of which Zelensky compared to the US World War II atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, in Japan.
"I'll tell you openly: Photographs of ruined Hiroshima absolutely remind me of Bakhmut and other similar settlements. Nothing left alive, all the buildings ruined," he said as he attended a Group of Seven summit in the Japanese city on Sunday.
"Bakhmut has not been captured by the Russian Federation as of today. There are no two or three interpretations of this," he told reporters.
Is Wagner on its own in Bakhmut?
Putin on Sunday congratulated the Wagner mercenary force and Russian troops for taking the city, while the founder of Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin played down the role of the regular Russian army and in a voice message on Telegram, said: "practically no one from the army helped us."
Taking Bakhmut - which Russia refers to by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk - would represent Moscow's first big victory in the conflict in more than 10 months.
The battle for Bakhmut has shown a deepening split between Wagner, which has recruited thousands of convicts from Russian prisons, and the regular Russian military. For two weeks, Prigozhin has been issuing daily video and audio messages denouncing Russia's military leadership, often in expletive-laden rants.
Moscow has long claimed that capturing Bakhmut would be a stepping stone towards advancing deeper into the Donbas region it claims to have annexed from Ukraine. It has made it the principal target of a massive offensive that failed to capture any significant ground elsewhere.
The Russian defense ministry said its forces had also destroyed a road bridge previously used by Ukrainian forces to reinforce Bakhmut as well as a Ukrainian ammunition warehouse.
Leaders of the world's richest democracies at the G7 summit said they would not back down from supporting Ukraine.
Zelensky, who held a private meeting with Biden in Hiroshima, said he was confident Kyiv would receive F-16 fighter jets from the West after months of lobbying for the planes.
Kyiv is preparing its counteroffensive, the next major phase in the war after six months of mainly defending against Russia's winter push.
Biden said F-16s would not have helped Ukrainian forces with regard to Bakhmut but could "make a big difference in terms of being able to deal with what is coming down the road."