More than 100 Russian soldiers have been killed in a missile strike in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv claims.
The Russians had grouped together near the town of Soledar, in eastern Ukraine, where one of the bloodiest battles of the war is playing out.
Ukraine’s military said the Russians “went together to Hell” as missiles and bullets rained down on them in a co-ordinated attack.
Kyiv’s military said: “More than 100 Russian soldiers went together to Hell in the Soledar area. This happened thanks to the coordinated work of SSO soldiers, gunners, and rocket launchers.
“The concentration of the enemy in several areas was discovered by the operators of the Special Operations Forces. Artillery was directed at the enemy, and the Tochka-U tactical missile complex was also used in one of the areas.
“As a result of these several strikes, the destruction of more than 100 occupiers, 2 machine gun positions and 2 mortars were confirmed.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said fighting is still raging in Soledar after a Russian mercenary group Wagner earlier said it controlled it.
Wagner claimed it controlled the gateway town – but the Kremlin cautioned against declaring victory prematurely.
In his daily address Wednesday, Zelensky insisted the front was “holding”. “The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend” to have achieved some successes in Soledar, Zelensky said, “but the fighting continues”.
Both Moscow and Kyiv have said the battle has been long and brutal. If Soledar did fall to Moscow’s forces, it would be Russia’s first significant territorial gain in Ukraine for months.
The war-battered salt mining town in the eastern Donetsk region lies about 15km from Bakhmut, a larger urban hub that Russia has been trying to seize.
The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed Wednesday that his forces had “taken control of the whole territory of Soledar” and “urban battles” were fought in the city centre.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti published a photo it said had been taken in the salt mines of Soledar showing Prigozhin with armed fighters.
The Ukrainian military said the pictures were taken elsewhere. The Russian defence ministry urged caution, saying it was best to wait for “official announcements”.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Wednesday that the United States could not confirm accounts that Soledar had fallen and the city had “gone back and forth a number of times, and it really is some pretty brutal fighting”.
On the road between Bakhmut and the city of Sloviansk further west, a wounded Ukrainian soldier waiting to be evacuated said fighting in Soledar was the toughest his brigade had seen.
But “nobody is planning to give up the city”, the 27-year-old, who goes by the nom de guerre Bober (Beaver), told AFP.
Zaporizhzhia, to the southwest of Soledar, has also been a target of fresh Russian strikes that damaged infrastructure and sparked fires, city council secretary Anatoliy Kourtev said early Thursday on Telegram.
“As a result of the shelling, houses of civilians were damaged again. According to preliminary information, no one was injured,” he said.