According to the Ukrainian military, pro-Russian military bloggers and former officials, a Ukrainian attack in Russian-held eastern Ukraine appears to have killed large numbers of Russian troops.
The strike took place just after midnight on Sunday, New Year’s Day, at a vocational school housing Russian conscripts in Makiivka, Donetsk region, according to Ukrainian and pro-Russian reports.
The attack has led to vocal criticism of Moscow’s military from pro-Russian military bloggers, who have claimed the troops have no protection and are reportedly barricaded next to a large ammunition dump that is believed to have exploded when Ukrainian HIMARS missiles hit the school.
Ukraine’s military said later Monday that the number of Russian soldiers killed in Makiivka was being “clarified” after previously claiming about 400 Russian soldiers were killed and another 300 injured. She has not directly acknowledged a role in the strike. CNN cannot independently confirm these numbers or the weapons used in the attack.
Some pro-Russian military bloggers have also estimated that the number of dead and wounded could be in the hundreds.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Monday acknowledged the attack, claiming that 63 Russian soldiers died, making it one of the deadliest episodes of the war for Moscow’s armed forces.
Russian Senator Grigory Karasin said those responsible for the killing of Russian soldiers in Makiivka must be found, Russia’s state news agency TASS reported on Monday.
Karasin, who chairs the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, said the deaths should not be forgotten.
According to reports, video from the site of the attack on Telegram was widely shared, including on an official Ukrainian military channel. It shows a smoking heap of rubble in which almost no part of the building appears to be standing.
“Greetings and congratulations” to the separatists and conscripts who were “taken to occupied Makiivka and crammed into the building of the vocational school,” the Strategic Communications Directorate of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Telegram. “Santa Claus grabbed around 400 bodies [Russian soldiers] in bags.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said US-made HIMARS missiles were used in the Ukrainian attack.
Daniil Bezsonov, a former official in the Russian-backed Donetsk government, told Telegram that “the high command still seems to have no idea about the capabilities of this weapon.”
“I hope those responsible for the decision to use this facility will be reprimanded,” Bezsonov said. “There are enough abandoned facilities in the Donbass with stable buildings and basements where staff can be housed.”
A Russian propagandist blogging about the war effort on Telegram, Igor Girkin, claimed that the building was almost completely destroyed by the secondary detonation of ammunition dumps.
“Almost all military equipment that stood near the building without the slightest sign of camouflage was also destroyed,” Girkin said. “There are still no final figures on the number of victims, as many people are still missing.”
Girkin has long condemned Russian generals, whom he claims are directing the war effort far from the front lines, calling them “essentially unlearned” and unwilling to heed warnings, equipment and personnel so close together placed within HIMARS range. Girkin was previously defense minister of the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic and was found guilty by a Dutch court of mass murder for his involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Sergey Markov, another pro-Russian military blogger, said there was “a lot of negligence” on the part of the Russian command.
Boris Rozhin, who also blogs about the war effort under the nickname Colonelcassad, said that “incompetence and an inability to grasp the experiences of the war remain a serious problem”.
“As you can see, despite several months of war, some conclusions are not drawn, hence the unnecessary casualties that might not have occurred if the elementary precautions regarding the dispersal and concealment of personnel had been taken.”
Donetsk has been held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014 and is one of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow wanted to illegally annex in October.
The news comes after Ukraine’s military claimed more than 700 Russian soldiers were killed on Saturday, but didn’t say where.
Russian forces “lost 760 people killed yesterday and continue to attempt offensive actions against Bakhmut,” the military general staff said on Sunday.
Russian units have been conducting an offensive against the Donetsk town of Bakhmut for months, but have suffered heavy casualties as Ukrainian forces attacked them in a largely open rural area.
Air raid sirens rang out in Ukraine over the weekend as fresh shots from Russian missile attacks hit multiple regions. At least six people were killed in the attacks in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Chernihiv regions and one man was injured early Monday.