Scores of French mercenaries have been killed in Kharkov, the Russian Defense Ministry has said
kharkov airstrike france mercenaries
© SERGEY BOBOK / AFPThe building destroyed by a January 16 Russian missile attack in Kharkov, January 17, 2024
Over 60 foreign fighters in Ukrainian service, most of them French, have been eliminated in a precision strike on a building in Kharkov, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

Kharkov is a major Ukrainian military stronghold in the east and has been the launching pad for rocket attacks on Russian territory, including the December 30 massacre in Belgorod that killed 25 and injured more than 100.

"On the evening of January 16, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation carried out a high-precision strike on the temporary assembly point of foreign fighters in the city of Kharkov, the majority of whom were French mercenaries," the ministry said.

"As a result of the strike, the building in which the mercenaries were stationed was completely destroyed. More than 60 militants were killed, [while] over 20 were taken to hospitals," the Russian military added.

The strike came on the same day that French President Emmanuel Macron announced Paris could not "allow Russia to win" and pledged to send 40 SCALP cruise missiles and "hundreds of bombs" to Kiev.

Ukrainian authorities initially said that two missiles had struck an inactive hospital, injuring nine people. Kharkov regional governor Oleg Sinegubov later said that 17 people had been wounded, two of them seriously.

Regional police head Vladimir Tymoshko told the outlet Suspilne that no military personnel were among the injured, only civilians, and that the target had been a "civilian residential building."

"This is genocide," Tymoshko claimed.

Thousands of foreign fighters flocked to Ukraine at the start of hostilities with Russia in 2022, only to quickly become disillusioned by the realities of modern war.

The most recent estimate of their number was in July, when the Russian Defense Ministry said only 2,000 mercenaries remained in Ukraine. Of the original 11,000, some 5,000 left because they were unhappy with their treatment, while others became casualties, Moscow said at the time.