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Wagner mercenaries' chief says Bakhmut is the reason for a recruiting push

Wagner commander Yevgeny Prigozhin said his  private army has opened recruitment centres in 42 Russian cities as he seeks to replenish the army's ranks following heavy losses in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Prigozhin said new fighters were coming forward in an upbeat audio message on Friday, but he didn't say how many. He also stated that ammunition supplies from the Russian army had improved but remained a concern.

"We will proceed despite the colossal resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces," he said. "Despite the sticks in the wheels thrown at us at every turn, we will overcome this together."

Ukraine has decided to continue fighting in the ruined Bakhmut because the battle has engaged some of Russia's best units and worn them down ahead of Moscow's planned spring counteroffensive, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's aide Mykhailo Podolyak on Friday.

"Russia has changed tactics," Podolyak said in an interview with Italy's La Stampa newspaper.

"It has converged on Bakhmut with a large portion of its trained military personnel, the remnants of its professional army, as well as private companies," he said.

Wagner mercenaries have been at the forefront of some of the fiercest fighting in Russia's attempt to take control of Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian army is still holding out after more than seven months of warfare - a bloody campaign Prigozhin calls "the meat grinder".

In a separate social media post on Friday, Prigozhin said Ukraine was preparing a counteroffensive near Bakhmut, adding, "Of course, we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening."

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