A Ukrainian rocket attack on a hotel in the east of the country has killed members of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary force whose leader has severed ties with President Vladimir V. Putin, regional Ukrainian military authorities have said.
The exiled head of Ukraine’s regional administration in Luhansk province, Serhiy Haidai, said in a message on the Telegram messaging app that “many” members of the Wagner force were killed in Sunday’s attack. in the town of Kadiivka. He posted a grainy photograph, taken at night, of a courtyard surrounded on three sides by a two-story building, which appeared to have been shattered by an explosion. There was a crater in the center of the courtyard.
Mr Haidai’s claim could not be independently verified and there was no immediate comment or confirmation from the Wagner Group. Telegram channels linked to the Wagner Group were silent, with no real mention of the strike.
Russian state news agency Tass reported in a Telegram article that a HIMARS rocket destroyed a hotel near the central market, but did not mention the Wagner Group. Using the city’s former Soviet name, Stakhanov, in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, the report cited the mayor’s office and said rescuers were clearing the rubble. He did not give details of the victims or say who was staying at the hotel.
There was no independent confirmation that Wagner’s forces were in the hotel, but such a strike would fit a pattern of attacks by Ukrainian forces on critical points of military infrastructure or troop concentrations on a territory occupied by Russian forces.
Over the weekend, Ukraine struck a church in the occupied town of Melitopol, southern Ukraine, which Russian troops were using as a base.
In recent months, Ukraine has made use of longer-range weapons, such as HIMARS, a US-provided system capable of locating targets behind Russian lines. The strikes were part of a Ukrainian-led campaign that began in August and culminated in the recapture of the city of Kherson on the west bank of the Dnipro. Recent attacks suggest Ukraine may be taking a similar approach in hopes of advancing on Russian positions east of the river.
Ukrainian forces “will continue to hammer” local headquarters and Russian logistics points over the coming weeks “to set up the conditions for the decisive phase of the campaign”, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges on CNN.
The Wagner Group, led by businessman Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, played a pivotal role in the Russian attempt to storm the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk province, which borders Luhansk. The fighting, fought for months amid heavy casualties on both sides, was among the most brutal since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
Military experts say capturing Bakhmut would have limited strategic value for Moscow, but would serve a political purpose given that Russia last captured a major Ukrainian town over the summer and, since September , suffered a series of battlefield losses in the northeast. and in the south of the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Kiev’s goal is to reclaim all of the territory seized by Russia since 2014. Its campaign in the south and east has been slowed in recent weeks by the arrival of the winter, although this did not change the pace of longer-ranged attacks.
The pace of ground attacks could increase when the ground freezes, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said.
“We saw rains and very difficult conditions for attacks from any side because the ground is wet and wheeled vehicles can hardly pass,” he told reporters in the city of Odessa on Sunday. . He added that “when the ground becomes firmer, I am confident that we will continue our counter-attacks.”