A Ukrainian rocket attack on a hotel in the east of the country killed members of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary force whose leader has closed ties to President Vladimir V. Putin, regional Ukrainian military authorities have said.
The exiled head of the Ukrainian regional administration in Luhansk Province, Serhiy Haidai, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app that “many” members of the Wagner force had been killed in the attack on Sunday in the city 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 quiet, with no real mention of the strike.
The Russian state news agency Tass reported in a Telegram post that a HIMARS rocket had destroyed a hotel close to the central market but did not mention the Wagner Group. Using the old Soviet name for the city, Stakhanov, in the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, the report cited the office of the mayor and said that rescuers were clearing the rubble. , It did not give details of casualties or say who was staying in the hotel.
There was no independent confirmation that Wagner 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 concentrations of troops in territory occupied by Russian forces.
Over the weekend, Ukraine struck a church in the occupied city of Melitopol in southern Ukraine that Russian troops were using as a base.
In recent months, Ukraine has made use of longer-range weapons, such as HIMARS, a system supplied by the United States, that are capable of pinpointing targets behind Russian lines. Those strikes were part of a campaign by Ukraine that began in August and culminated in the recapture of the city of Kherson on the west bank of the Dnipro River. The recent attacks suggest Ukraine might be following a similar approach in hopes of advancing on Russian positions east of the river.
Ukrainian forces would “continue to pound” Russian local headquarters and logistics points for the next few weeks “in order to set the conditions for the decisive phase of the campaign,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said on CNN on Monday.
The Wagner Group, led by the businessman Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, has played a central role in Russia’s attempt to storm the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk Province, which borders Luhansk. The fighting, waged over months amid heavy losses on both sides, has been some of the most brutal since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
Military experts say that the capture of Bakhmut would be of limited strategic value to Moscow but it would serve a political purpose given that Russia last captured a significant Ukrainian city in the summer and, since September, has sustained a series of battlefield losses in the northeast and south of the country.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine says Kyiv’s aim 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 onset of winter, though that has not altered the tempo of longer- range attacks.
The pace of ground attacks could quicken when the ground freezes, said Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov.
“We have seen rains and very difficult conditions for attacks from any side because the ground is wet and wheeled vehicles can hardly pass,” he told journalists in the city of Odesa on Sunday. He added that “when the ground will become firmer, I am convinced that we will continue our counterattacks.”
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