The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has announced that its forces have started withdrawing from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
Yevgeny Prigozhin has vowed to transfer control of the city to the Russian army by 1 June, but Kyiv says it still controls pockets of the city.
He said his forces were ready to return if the Russian regular army proved unable to manage the situation.
The battle for the city has been the longest and bloodiest of the war.
Wagner mercenaries have led the fighting there for the Russian side, and Mr Prigozhin this week said that 20,000 of its fighters had died in Bakhmut.
We are withdrawing units from Bakhmut today,” Mr Prigozhin said in a video released on Telegram from the destroyed city.
BBC Verify has geolocated the video to an area near a pharmacy in the east of Bakhmut.
Mr Prigozhin – who announced the capture of the city on Saturday – is seen telling his men to leave ammunition for the Russian army. He adds that some Wagner fighters will stay behind to assist Russian troops.
“The moment when the military are in a tough situation, they will stand up,” he says, before warning two fighters to not “bully the military”.
The Wagner boss has repeatedly targeted top Russian military officials, criticising them publicly for not supporting his troops. Last month, he even threatened to pull his troops out of the city if they were not provided with much-needed ammunition.
Despite Wagner’s claims to be handing over Bakhmut, Ukraine has not conceded that the city has fallen.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, Hanna Maliar, said on Thursday that its forces still control part of the Litak district in the southwest of the city.