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Scores of Russian troops killed in Ukraine missile strike – one of deadliest attacks against Putin’s forces

Kyiv claims 400 troops were killed in attack as Moscow makes rare admission of large-scale fatalities

Liam James
Monday 02 January 2023 21:02 GMT
Russia says 63 soldiers killed in Ukrainian missile strike on Makiivka on New Year’s Eve

Scores of Russian troops have been killed by an attack on a complex in the Donetsk region, one of the deadliest strikes against Vladimir Putin’s forces since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.

In a rare acknowledgement of the scale of the attack on New Year’s Eve, Russia‘s Defence Ministry claimed it lost 63 troops when Ukraine hit “a temporary deployment facility” in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian city of Makiivka with four US-supplied Himars missiles. The message appeared to counter claims from Kyiv that hundreds of soldiers had been killed in the assault.

Moscow hardly ever releases figures for its casualties, and when it does the figures are typically low – it acknowledged just one death from among a crew of hundreds when Ukraine sank its flagship cruiser Moskva in April.

The Strategic Communications Directorate of Ukraine's armed forces earlier claimed that some 400 mobilised Russian soldiers were killed in a vocational school building in Makiivka and about 300 more were wounded. The Russian statement said the strike occurred “in the area of Makiivka” and did not mention the vocational school.

Russia’s commanders came under harsh criticism at home from irate military observers after the Kremlin admitted to losing scores of troops in the Makiivka strike. A popular Russian nationalist military blogger said the deaths were a result of storing ammunition in the same building as a barracks despite commanders knowing it was within range of a Ukrainian military bolstered by munitions from Western nations.

Igor Girkin, a former organiser of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine who has emerged as one of the highest profile Russian nationalist military bloggers, said the ammunition and Russian military equipment stored in Makiivka was left in plain sight.

“This is not the only such (extremely dense) deployment of personnel and equipment in the destruction zone of Himars missiles,” he wrote. “And – yes – this is not the first such case.”

Russia’s defence ministry gave its estimate of the death toll only in the final paragraph of a 528-word daily battlefield roundup, which followed hours after Ukraine claimed to have killed 400 troops.

Ukrainian servicemen ride a tank in the village of Torske, Donetsk (Reuters)

One Russian pro-war blogger with more than 1 million followers, Rybar, said there had been about 600 people in the building and accused commanders of “criminal naivety”.

“What happened in Makiivka is horrible,” wrote Archangel Spetznaz Z, another Russian military blogger with more than 700,000 followers on Telegram.

“Who came up with the idea to place personnel in large numbers in one building, where even a fool understands that even if they hit with artillery, there will be many wounded or dead?” he wrote.

A local woman is taken to hospital after being wounded in a Russian strike in Berislav in Kherson region (Reuters)

Commanders “couldn’t care less” about ammunition stored in disarray on the battlefield, he said. “Each mistake has a name.”

Footage posted online showed a building purported to be a vocational college in Makiivka – which neighbours the regional capital Donetsk – reduced to a field of smouldering rubble.

The Independent could confirm the location of the video from the nearby buildings and road layout seen but not the date that it was filmed.

A local resident walks on an empty street amidst destroyed vehicles in Torske (Reuters)

A source close to the Russian-installed Donetsk leadership told Reuters the building had been used to house some of the 300,000 or more soldiers mobilised since September, many of them already sent to the front to bolster Russia’s faltering military campaign in Ukraine.

Russia has claimed Donetsk alongside three other Ukrainian regions after a series of referendums in September widely denounced as shams.

Earlier on Monday, Kyiv officials claimed to have shot down every drone in a wave of drone strikes fired overnight on Sunday, as Russia continued into an unprecedented third straight night of strikes against civilian targets.

Officials said 39 drones were downed, including 22 over the capital, though some damage to the power grid was reported and emergency blackouts were in place in Kyiv and elsewhere in central Ukraine.

A Ukrainian service member uses a radio station in a shelter on a frontline in Bakhmut, Donetsk (Reuters)

Local officials in Kherson region in southern Ukraine said a Russian attack left five wounded. Governor of Kherson Yaroslav Yanushevych said shells hit the town of Beryslav on the Dnipro river, some 30 miles east of the regional capital abandoned by Russian forces in November.

He said the shots were presumed to have come from a tank in Kakhovka across the river, where Russian forces remain.

Seven drones were shot down over the southern Mykolaiv region, according to Governor Vitali Kim, and three more were shot down in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, a missile was also destroyed, according to officials, who said energy infrastructure in the region was being targeted.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said he was waiting for 2023’s first tranche of European Union macrofinancial aid this month after speaking to European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen on Monday.

The EU has agreed to provide €18bn this year to help Ukraine pay for essential public services and restore critical infrastructure damaged in more than 10 months of war.

Reuters contributed to this report

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