Ukraine said on Friday Russia was bringing Wagner mercenary fighters from other parts of the front line to fight in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, and that Moscow wanted to capture the city in time for Victory Day celebrations next week.
Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said his mercenary forces would pull out of Bakhmut on May 10 because of heavy losses and inadequate ammunition supplies.
That is one day after Russia celebrates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, an important day in the Russian calendar.
"We are now seeing them pulling (fighters) from the entire offensive line where the Wagner fighters were, they are pulling (them) to the Bakhmut direction," Maliar said in televised comments.
"The Russians are inclined towards symbolism and their key historic myth is May 9 and they really have set the objective of taking control of Bakhmut by this date," she said.
Prigozhin's Wagner mercenaries have spearheaded Russia's months-long assault on Bakhmut in the industrial Donbas region. He has regularly accused Russia's military top brass of incompetence.
Andriy Yusov, a Ukrainian military intelligence spokesperson, said Prigozhin's remarks showed a long-running feud with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov was not over.
"The confrontation continues," he said.
Though of questionable military strategic value, Bakhmut, which had a pre-war population of 70,000, has taken on huge symbolic importance in Russia's full-scale invasion. Casualties there have been high.
Russia marks May 9 annually with a big military parade on Red Square presided over by President Vladimir Putin.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Timothy Heritage)