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 social messaging app that “many” members of the Wagner force had been killed in the attack on Sunday in the city of Kadiivka, which is west of the city of Luhansk, the regional capital. He posted a grainy photograph, apparently taken at night, of a courtyard surrounded on three sides by a two-storey building, which appeared to have been shattered by an explosion. There was a crater in the center of the courtyard.
A HIMARS rocket destroyed the hotel close to the central market and rescuers were clearing the rubble, said a report on Telegram by a Russian state news agency, Tass. It cited the office of the mayor of the town in the self-proclaimed and Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic.
There was no independent confirmation of the strike, or of the photographs, but it 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. 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.
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 this has not altered the tempo of longer-range attacks.
The pace of ground attacks could quicken when winter hardens the terrain, 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. “But the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not think to stop. Therefore, using the moment when the ground will become firmer, I am convinced that we will continue our counterattacks, the campaign to liberate our territories.”
The absence of battlefield movement has not prevented artillery attacks on civilians in Donbas, a region that Ukrainian authorities have for months been advising noncombatants to leave. Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Ukrainian military administration in Donetsk, said that one person was killed on Sunday in the province and eight were injured on Monday.