Ukraine: The Battle For Soledar’s Salt Mines – by Oleksandr Miasyshchev (Eurasia Review – March 12, 2023)


Serhiy (not his real name) remembers when the last load of salt left Soledar. “The last trucks left on May 16,” the 39-year-old miner told IWPR. “The very next day, a Russian air bomb fell near the administration building, tearing out the doors and windows. A colleague of mine was close to the explosion and survived, miraculously.”

Born and raised in Soledar, Serhiy has spent all his working life in the local landmark mine. The town in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk is home to Europe’s largest salt deposits: a vast, cavernous network of underground tunnels extending for about 200 kilometres that Russian forces, and the mercenary group Wagner in particular, targeted for economic and strategic purposes.

The Russian assault on Soledar and Bakhmut, barely 12 kilometres apart, started in mid-2022 and there have been intense ground battles in and around the towns since August. In January 2023, Ukrainian forces still defended the area of Artemsil, the state-owned enterprise controlling the now idle mines. On January 14, the Ukrainian flag still flew over the Artemsil mine; two days later the now-razed town was in Russian hands.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group that is spearheading the assault on Bakhmut, clearly saw the mining tunnels as a strategic asset. He wrote on his Telegram channel that they are “a network of underground cities…it not only [can hold] a big group of people at a depth of 80-100 metres, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move about”.

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