KRAMATORSK, Ukraine: The death toll from a Russian missile strike on a restaurant in eastern Ukraine rose to nine on Wednesday, as Kyiv downplayed the impact of the Wagner mutiny on fighting.
Three children were among the dead at the Ria Pizza restaurant, while at least 56 people were injured in the attack.
The eatery is popular with both soldiers and journalists in the town of Kramatorsk, one of the largest still under Ukrainian control in the east.
“Search and rescue operations and debris removal are ongoing,” Ukraine’s state emergency service said on social media.
“The bodies of 9 dead people - including 3 children - were retrieved from under the rubble,” it said.
Days after Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin’s aborted rebellion, widely seen as the biggest threat to Kremlin authority in decades, Kyiv said the mutiny’s influence on fighting was minimal.
“Unfortunately, Prigozhin gave up too quickly. So there was no time for this demoralising effect to penetrate Russian trenches,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN in a video published Wednesday.
As Belarus welcomed Prigozhin into exile on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin moved to shore up his authority by thanking regular troops for averting a civil war.
But as Moscow announced preparations to disarm Wagner fighters, Putin’s arch-foe, jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, launched a stinging attack on the president in his first comments since the aborted mutiny by the paramilitaries.
Putin’s supporters, however, insisted that his rule was not weakened by the revolt.
Asked whether Putin’s power was diminished by the sight of Wagner’s rebel mercenaries seizing a military HQ, advancing on Moscow and shooting down military aircraft along the way, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused political commentators of exaggerating, adding that: “We don’t agree.”