A New Year’s Day attack on a complex in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian city of Makiivka has killed scores of recently mobilised troops sent by Moscow, in one of deadliest single strikes against Russia’s forces since the war began.
Russia’s defence ministry, in a rare admission on Monday, said 89 Russian soldiers died when Ukraine hit “a temporary deployment facility” with four US-supplied Himars missiles.
Ukraine’s military command said up to 400 Russian soldiers were killed in the city, which is in a Moscow-controlled area of the Donetsk region.
Even if the total numbers are lower, the strike in Makiivka would be one of the deadliest attacks involving conscripts and will add further pressure on Moscow’s military leaders.
In a statement, Ukraine’s military’s general staff said “up to 10 units of enemy military equipment of various types were destroyed and damaged in the area of concentration in the settlement of Makiivka”.
Daniil Bezsonov, a senior Moscow proxy official in Russian-occupied Donetsk, earlier said a Ukrainian missile had struck a vocational school in Makiivka that housed soldiers two minutes after midnight on New Year’s Day.
“A massive blow was dealt to the vocational school from American MLRS Himars,” Bezsonov wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app, referring to US-provided missiles. “There were dead and wounded; the exact number is still unknown.”
Photographs circulating on social media show what appears to be the ruins of the building in Makiivka used by the Russian army as barracks.
A number of prominent Russian pro-war bloggers and commentators also acknowledged the attack, but suggested the number of casualties was higher than the figures reported by the defence ministry.
“In terms of the number of victims, there are still no final figures, since many people are listed as missing (remained under the rubble). In any case, there are many hundreds dead and wounded,” Igor Strelkov, a Russian ultra-nationalist commentator and former intelligence officer, wrote on Telegram.
“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. Commanders “couldn’t care less” about ammunition stored in disarray on the battlefield, he said. “Each mistake has a name.”
Rybar, a popular Telegram channel with links to the Russian military, said on Monday as the clearing of debris continued that at least 70 people had died and more than 100 were injured.
The attack also sparked renewed criticism among pro-invasion bloggers and some officials over the state of Russia’s military and the decision to use civilian infrastructure to house soldiers.
“Housing personnel in buildings instead of housing them in shelters directly aids the enemy. From the situation in Makiivka it is necessary to draw the toughest conclusions,” wrote Andrey Medvedev, an ultra-conservative journalist who is deputy chairman of Moscow’s city parliament.
Bezsonov called for the punishment of “those guilty of the decision to use the facility. The Donbas has enough objects with strong infrastructure where you can house army personnel.”
Vladlen Tatarsky, a military blogger whom Putin met in the Kremlin in September, called for a tribunal for the Russian military leadership, describing Moscow’s top officers as “untrained idiots”, in a post on Telegram.
Russia’s acknowledgment of scores of deaths in one incident was almost without precedent. Moscow rarely 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.
Sunday’s deadly strike came a day after the Ukrainian defence minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said the Kremlin was planning to close its borders and announce a second wave of mass mobilisation in early January. The Kremlin earlier denied there were plans to launch a fresh recruitment drive.
There have been public expressions of anger from citizens over the way the first wave of mobilisation has been handled, including complaints that the conscripts were not adequately prepared and equipped.
Meanwhile, Moscow extended its bombardment of Ukraine into a second day, launching several waves of Russian drone attacks that targeted critical infrastructure in Kyiv and surrounding areas.
Energy infrastructure facilities were damaged in the overnight strikes, causing power and heating outages, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said on Monday.
It was the second night in a row of strikes, after Kyiv was targeted on New Year’s Eve. The damage to the capital was limited to two cases of rocket debris falling on the city, damaging a car in the city centre on Sunday.
Sunday’s attacks came minutes after Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, delivered his new year’s address, saying he hoped 2023 would bring a successful conclusion to the fighting, and peace to the country.
“We don’t know for sure what 2023 will bring us. I want to wish all of us one thing – victory. And that’s the main thing.”